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This article, Gears of War: Songs of Sirens, was written by Jonesybites. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.


Greetings and welcome to my sequal that follows Snowblind. Although you can probably still understand most of what's going on without having to read Snowblind, since I am taking this story in a different direction than my previous fanfiction. Although the plot is simplified, the layers of involvement between characters becomes complex as they deal with, not just one, but several levels of antagonists. There is a mixture of genres in this fic, which includes action, suspense, mystery/crime, romance, and drama.

Anyway, I've been busy trying to put the chapter together out of an array of ideas that I have been scribbling down into something of an outline so I am going to go ahead and get this thing started with a Prologue to help set up the events in the story before I get into a regular schedule of posting chapters.

Before reading, please note that this fic is rated M for crude language, adult situations, extreme violence, sexual innuendoes, and detailed/or explicit sex scene, (yea, you heard me right). Please also note that this is strictly a fanfic that is based on the Gears of War game (which is also rated M) and is the property of Epic Gaming studios and/or its affiliates, and that I do NOT own the GoW franchise.

So without furhter adieu, sit back and enjoy. Feedback is welcome at your convenience.


Cold silence has a tendency to atrophy any sense of compassion…between supposed brothers. Between supposed lovers. (Schism:Tool)

Songs of Sirens copy

Caption


Gears of War: Songs of Sirens Edit

The term, or phrase, "Songs of Sirens," is an oral telling of how the Feral pass down their orientation of their history, that has spanned over the last seven decades or so, with E- Day noted as a major intervention in the latter days of human dominion on Sera.

In this version, there is a lot of elemental symbolism the Feral use to tell stories or pass down knowledge to the next generation, and the next.

This account as of recent revolves a tribulation, while the last of their culture dwindles with a few of what is left of the future generations, which may explain their haste as to why they insist on beginning their breeding orthodox with the COG as soon as possible.

No stress there.

-Colonel Hoffman's overall summary of what he acquired from Corporal Damon Baird's journal entry, after the incident in Glacier Valley.



Prologue Edit

We survive what we can't change
So let it fade
Just let it go
We pretend so nothing does change
We're flowers never breaking through the stone
The Stone [1]
-Ashes Divide-

…continued from Snowblind: Chapter 44; one hour after Dill deployment on Vectus Naval Base.

Looking out an open window from the Vectus Naval Base Headquarters, Colonel Hoffman placed his hand on his desk, brushing off a thick layer of dust, while getting a glimpse of his newly renovated office; renovated, as in nothing more than slapping some fresh paint over the mildew infested walls that were once eggshell white.

So this is supposed to be paradise…Hoffman wondered, feeling the sea breeze blow into the room, gently stirring the tattered, tan colored blinds that were at one time white. Taking a moment, Hoffman inhaled the salty air, in contrast to the odor of latex, reeking from the fresh layer of paint that was still drying on the sheetrock. In the moment of soaking up the fresh breeze, he looked over to a tattered box, sitting next to a makeshift, desktop computer and an old, tube monitor.

The box was his, filled with personal belongings he was able to salvage before Jacinto's fall, and then relocated with him to Vectus. It was all that was left of his personal belongings that he had to his name, and it wasn't much. Glaring at the frail cardboard, he was quick to notice that the box had seen better days, after being exposed to the elements, as the mold collected on the bottom, with the edges warped from water exposure, causing the joints to deform. It was just a tattered box, but it was his box, the only physical evidence of his existence in this world.

Reaching into it, he pulled out an old wedding photo, something he kept on his persons for years, a picture of him and Margaret. Lifting it up into the light and glaring at the picture, despite the ragged edges of wear, Hoffman frowned. It was such a contrast to everything that was left now. The two looked so happy in love, with Victor in uniform and Margaret in her white wedding dress, wearing her mothers' pearl necklace. It was one of his semi-happier moments that lasted a little while, like everything else that he could sum up as a "happy moment."

Placing the old photo back, he looked further, pulling up a small, old photo album, brushing the dusty debris that was collected over it. He could smell the stale stench of time, the kind of scent you could register at an antique shop from years of the accumulation of musty oils of human hands, after years of handling and exposure to the elements. Noticing the velvet cloth beginning to tether from decay, he was handling it with care, trying not to accelerate the aging process…Son of a bitch, is this a precursor of things to come? Am I too going to wither away like an obsolete antiquity? Despite the festering reality of age creeping up on him, after shoving years upon years of repressed emotions to the side, he started to look in it anyway…hell, what else to have to lose now?

Carefully peeling the pages apart from sitting under lord knows, how many years of sitting in this very box in a dreary, humid room, the Colonel tilted his head, squinting slightly to look past the discolored film that covered the photos…well, I be damned.

It was a photo of him at his coronation, accepting his promotion to Major. Looking at it, he could see a picture of himself, sixteen years younger, shaking hands with the then, Chairman Dalyell, before things went sour after the events at Aspho Point.

Turning the page, he noticed a few wedding invitations, stuffed between the pages that were discolored and frayed now. Carefully pulling them out, he noticed old graduation announcements and other commencement ceremonies, mixed in with crumpled tissue paper and a few old business cards. Looking further, he pulled out several cut-out newspaper articles from the Jacinto Times…one being an sports article concerning his nephew, on Margaret's side, and the other a baby announcement for the Santiago's and their newborn girl, Sylvia. Setting the cut-outs back into the book, he noticed a folded graduation commencement from Professor Fenix for his son Marcus, an obituary for Captain Harrie, and then reached in to pull out an anniversary card, sent by Major Jonathan McNight, congratulating Victor and Margaret for their fifteenth wedding anniversary.

Feeling the weight of failure as a husband, or even a man, entertaining the illusion of things that could have been done differently, never hit him as hard before, but the sudden reminiscing of memories from photos of those long gone, curled into his conscience and festered, pulling at his sanity like a anvil weighing him down from under the water. His eyes glistened as a tear found refuge in the corner of his eye. He never found the time to mourn for Margaret, nor Major McNight, or Bai Tak for that matter. It was always the line of duty that came first, the constant race of trying to stay ahead, or humanity would have fallen into the cracks of this war, for good. Failure was not an option.

He couldn't quite figure how he should feel about all of it, glancing back at his memories, the only thing he had, to keep things in a sane perspective, finding something to beguile him from the anguish he would probably be reveling himself in, otherwise. His own moral convention teetered between what was right and what was practical, keeping everything on a need to know basis, while focusing on the larger picture; basing his decisions on what was best for humanity, even at the sacrifice of few. He was starting to hate it. He was damned that he was ever going to stoop back down to the likes of some treaty signing, pencil pushing politician, drawing the line before compromising his ethics. Yea, I'm going to be human again, and I'm going to finally fucking mourn.

…and so he did…carefully sitting in the wooden chair nearby, creaking under the weight of his armor, his ammo packs, his side arm, his dignity, his poise, his principles, and wept. Bringing his hand to his tired face, shielding his watering eyes from the waking world as tears flowed profusely, he lowered his head onto his new desk, with both hands cradling his weary head, letting the chips fall from where they stood, slumping off his shoulder one by one, as the weight of years of just sucking it up was now loosed.

The things than would run fervently through his head was no longer there. The skeletons he accrued over the years was buried and done; the things that would keep him up at night, just withered away, slipping to the wayside, never to be revisited again. It was all swept into quarantine, filed away in a landfill of red tape. It was the best he could do, considering the circumstances that he faced now.

Coming to calm as the mourning turned into reflection, he lifted his head to wipe the tears that clung to the lines of age from his face while looking out his window, noticing a faint pillar of smoke coming from out on the sea, rising into the air.

"What in…" he mumbled to himself, rummaging in thought as to what it was, "…you've got to be kidding me…"

He turned his head over to his com, looking out towards the harbor where a few of their warships were still stationed,

"Lieutenant Mathieson, get Captain Michaelson on the squawk…"

"Roger that sir…signal pending…"

The black smoke continued to rise as a Raven flew past the naval harbor, apparently dispatched towards the open sea ahead. It wasn't long before the radio activity started to increase while a faint noise was barely pushing through the Colonel's personal com.

"This...Captain...speaking...please respond, over…"

"Captain this is Hoffman, you're breaking up…"

"Roger..."

A few seconds pass as the static started to bounce in between the unstable frequency before the Captain could be heard more audibly.

"This is Captain Michaelson, come in Colonel...can you here me now?"

"Much better, Quentin, over..."

"Affirmative to that, Colonel, over…"

"So please tell me that the cloud of smoke I'm looking at, west of your position, is another training simulation..."

"I'm afraid I can't confirm that, Vic. All ships, except for Clement, are at dock and accounted for, over…"

"Son of a...alright Michaelson, you know the drill. I'll be calling back the 'Dill convoy we just deployed this morning. Keep me posted, over…"

"Affirmative, Colonel. Michaelson out."

"Lieutenant Stroud, come in, Lieutenant..."

"Yes Colonal..."

"Bring the boys back...it looks like we got something else on our plate that we're going to have to deal with here real soon."

"Affirmative, Colonel. I'll be issuing a cancellation ASAP."

"Roger that, Lieutenant...Hoffman out."

Letting out a groaning sigh, Hoffman dropped the old album back into his personal box.

Shortly afterwards, Hoffman slumped back into his chair and started to rub his head, reminiscing the events of late, going over the math between the insurgencies at Port Farrall, Massy and the pirates, the incident in Glacier Valley, Moroses' militia, to the recent negotiations with Pelruan. For fuck's sake, what kind of hornet's nest did we just stir up now?


Chapter 1: Recovering Falstaff Edit

Kelp trawler blows up at sea…

In the early morning of nineteen hundred hours on Frost 36:15 A.E., a kelp harvesting vessel, the Falstaff, was found burning out at sea, twenty-four kilometers, south from Vectus Navel Base. COG personnel, along with a survey vessel was dispatched that same morning to investigate what appeared, as a KR pilot described it, to be a patch of rising smoke coming off the water surface. A KR flight simulation was in progress earlier that morning, when the smoke sight was first discovered.

The ten-man crew of this twenty-six year old trawler was found floating in a safety boat out to sea, away from the burning ship. They were rescued and relocated safely by a COG chopper to be taken to Vectus hospital where they will be treated for possible injuries, however, sources say the crew is doing well, despite abandoning their burning ship.

As of now, the COG cannot confirm nor deny that this was a deliberate attack, however the salvage team believes that foul play may be the culprit, but will not disclose any more details until upon further investigation of Falstaff's remnants, which will be relocated to the naval port later today.

Retreat Times




There was a time that the pieces fit, but I watched them fall away. Mildewed and smoldering, strangled by our coveting, I've done the math enough to know the dangers of our second guessing, doomed to crumble unless we grow, and strengthen our communication.

Schism[2]
Tool


The next day…

The evening sun hung low over the sea, spraying the sky in a brilliance of colors, glistening over the rolling waves making their way to the shore. If it wasn't for the immediate deployment of a salvage team, the Gears of Epsilon and Sigma may have enjoyed watching the sunset from the base mess hall that sat along the beach front, eating freshly boiled crawfish, lobster, and hushpuppies.

Instead, they spent majority of the hot, dreary day, trying to salvage what was left of the kelp trawler, and reconstructing the random remnants of her hull. The light sea breeze made the intense heat bearable, as the crew of the survey ship, Dionysus, and several Gear squadrons, worked around the clock, searching for ship fragments and bringing them to port.

After dragging most of her contents to dock at the Vectus Naval Base, the squadrons spent five hours, trying to somewhat re-assemble the hull, hoping to piece together as to what really happened to the vessel. What started as a supposed APC training operation the day before, ended into a search and rescue, and then going back out to search some more, rotating shifts between searching and loading, until all that was left to be found was brought back for investigation.

Needless to say, it was a long, exhausting day, with most of the Gears calling it a night, after putting only half of the pieces they managed to find, together. The rest of the metal fragments to her bow were thrown into one big heap so they could load it all at once to be taken to the scrap yard.

The only few among them that were still going over contingencies was Baird and Bjork, who spent the latter part of the evening, disputing over what caused the actual discharge, after drinking coffee non-stop for over an hour.

"I'm telling ya, D, it had to be goretain…" Bjork ranted, pointing to the scorch marks along the outside of the hull, near what they believed to be the ignition point.

The massive hole in the bent up metal was the size of a car, which led to one of three possibilities of what could have caused such an explosion that not only blew a hole in the hull but also eradicated a good third of the bow. The red scorching along the inside of the hull suggested a substance called crimson coalite, named after it's signature crimson dye when burned, but it had to have some catalyst to aid in igniting it. Such a catalyst not only had to be transportable but also small enough to go unnoticed to the usual maintenance that the crew routinely inspects the trawler before they went out to sea.

"…and I'm telling ya, Spades…goretain isn't the best choice for a catalyst. It smells like vomit and you would need a lot of it to make a dent like this…and it would need a pretty powerful electrical flux to ignite it."

"Alright, so…hypothetically speaking, what if this was triggered by an engine flux?"

"…but it wasn't near the engine."

"Exactly…so they have had to rig it with a line for the flux to travel to some timer to ignite the component…and if it wasn't goretain, then perhaps they used telethain…"

"Ok, maybe…but that would take a lot of time and I'll be frank; most people don't have the slightest I.Q. sense to set up something that complicated…and where would they get the telethain anyway, the fucking stop n' rob on at your local street corner?"

"Pfft…probably from that storage house that was looted and burnt down the other week. There may have been some there…"

"Wait…we had a looting at one of the storage houses?"

"Shea…they ransacked that bitch in one night…stole all the toilet paper, man…"

"Son of a…" Baird griped while flaying his arms in the air, "…so we're going to be wiping our asses with phonebooks, again…and I'm just now hearing about this?"

"Shit D, everyone knew about it. Where in the hell were you?"

Baird didn't bother to answer, but kept his attention to the punctured, melted metal around the exit wound of the Falstaff, trying to make sense of the bright red scorching, mixed with the melted infrastructure on the other side of the hull; well, at least we agree that it wasn't a torpedo.

Knowing that Baird was intentionally ignoring him, Bjork decided to up the ante while taking off his gloves and tossing them on the wood floor next to Falstaff's salvaged remnants.

"Lemme guess, you were messing around in the Sovereign weren't you…"

"Ok, what the hell are you insinuating now, Spades?"

"You dump one sweet thing, just to go get your hands dirty with some floozy, carrying seventy-six, millimeter gun turrets…"

Baird rolled his eyes, knowing exactly what Bjork was hinting at, especially since it wasn't the first time Bjork has rubbed his face in it; damnit Cole…this is all your fault!

"C'mon, gimme a break…that poor old bird was in dire need of some TLC…and I'm saying that pretty lightly," Baird grumbled before Bjork replied,

"Pfft, so that's what we're calling it now…maintenance?"

"…and just to set the record straight, she dropped ship and left me with this sappy, good-bye note, and USB card filled with who knows how much classified intel she hacked from the COG mainframe," Baird reiterated while holding out a piece of folded paper in his hand for Bjork to see. Bjork let out a slight chuckle while Baird shoved the paper back into his pack strapped to his utility belt.

"Yea, yea, and did you ever open the encryption on all of that?"

"I'm…" Baird stuttered for a moment before answering, knowing that he came close to acknowledging that he wasn't able to quite yet break some of the coding; or at least for now, "…it's pending."

"Ah, why don't ya just say it…you've been spending more time with your new flame, fondling her slick, metal ass…"

"Hey, leave Sovereign out of this. At least she doesn't bark at me when she's on the rag…"

"Yea, well I guess I wouldn't wanna piss off a chick who can wield an arsenal assembly of torpedoes and warheads either."

"I dunno Spades. I swear I can imagine some days when that rotten hag, Gettner looks as if she's gonna burn a hole in my ass with her lazer vision...and don't even get me started with Mataki."

"Ah c'mon, admit it…you just miss pissing off that little black-headed tart from the bowels of Port Farrall's icy tomb…"

Baird only let out a groan in return as he knelt down to his hands and knees, trying to get a closer look at small puncture into what appeared to be part of the anchor hawsepipe. Bjork let out a slight snicker, knowing Baird's telltale signs all too well whenever he mentioned something that was either too personal for Baird to talk about, or it was something he was trying frantically to repress. In either case, Bjork let his mind wander on the thought process he was already treading in, until something came to the forefront, breaking through like a wrecking ball.

"Ah shit…" Bjork sputtered out as stood up, shaking his dark, scruffy hair, letting the sweat he accumulated earlier in the day, scatter in all directions "…that's it!"

"That's what?"

"Celetium…"

"Yea, so? What about…" Baird caught himself before he put the pieces together, shortly after Bjork uttered the catalyst. Scooting back onto his knees again, Baird shifted his goggles back onto his forehead; damn…

"It's light, it's cheap, and it's accessible…" Bjork started as Baird jumps right in,

"…and a small amount of it can pack quite a bang…that may explain all these small little dentures that are riddled all over the damn hull; shit, I bet those assholes that raided the storage house, weren't after our fuel or toiletries…" Baird growled, kicking himself for not thinking of it earlier; damnit, how did I overlook that?

"Ah, damn…that storage warehouse had over five tons of that shit!" Bjork recanted while pulling his goggles down to his neck.

"How much did they take?" Baird asked, trying to get a head count of how much of the catalyst is out there at some lunatic's disposal.

"The whole place burnt down to the ground…nobody could tell ya how much the jerk-offs took…"

"…so it would be safe to assume they took all of it, right?"

"Most of it, but not all of it. Those barrels are pretty heavy man…it takes at least three men to move it from the storage to a Packhorse."

Baird began scratching the back of his head, going over the possible scenario as he adjusted his goggles while Bjork knelt back down, glaring at the arrangement of what was left of Falstaff's hull.

"Ok, so they ransack the warehouse, take what they could…say three, maybe four barrels?" Baird contemplated while Bjork reiterated,

"Let's say they did take four barrels, so they have to at least be a four man crew…"

"They take this shit to their makeshift lab, pack it into some container small enough to stuff under a compartment, and set it off with some timer…"

"Which means they had to have boarded the Falstaff either the night before, or early that morning…"

"…and then blow the Falstaff all to hell, a few hours later," Baird stood baffled, trying to make the peices fit the puzzle, "…all that…just to blow up a fucking kelp trawler?"

The moment of silence between the two became an awkward sign of deliberation, going over the theories that just so happens to fit the facts, only coming to the same conclusion, each time; so why blow up a kelp trawler?

Still in the moment of deep thought of trying to piece it all together before looking at the bigger picture, the sound of footsteps could be heard from the other side of the dock. Both looked up and noticed Colonel Hoffman walking up towards the beginning of Falstaff's reconstructed, port side hull, laid out on the platform. Captain Michaelson was following close behind, meandering the car size shrapnel along with Hoffman as the two continued to exchange words that seemed almost an array of objectives that neither really wanted to follow through.

"Shit on a fucking stick…this makes number three in just two weeks!" Baird and Bjork could hear Michaelson blurt out, glaring at Falstaff's frayed remnants.

Hoffman stood idle for a moment as he too glared at the salvaged metal debris, with some speculations already coming to mind, but didn't have the evidence to back it up. Generally speaking, Pirates had little interest in blowing up trawlers; they usually ransacked the vessels of their supplies and didn't waste the time, or munitions to sink them.

"First things first…I'll get in touch with Trescu…see if he has anything he would like to share with us…"

"Look, I know Trescu walks a tight-ass line, hovering over his derelict platform like a ploy for Prescott's amusement, but you don't think the Gorasni had anything to do with blowing a kelp trawler, do you?"

"Hell, Quentin…at this point, I'm keeping everything in a larger perspective, especially after what he did to that pirate ship. For all we know, the Zephyr could've been roaming nearby…"

Glaring at the two techheads whom spent the last ninety minutes squabbling over conspiracy theories, Hoffman started to make his way over to Baird and Bjork on the other side of the Falstaff's hull.

"Gentlemen…tell me you have something close to an assessment about what happened to this vessel,"

"If close means approximate, then our latest theory is closer to fitting the bill, but it's still in theory…until some other components could be looked into," Bjork acknowledged the Colonel first, knowing that Baird hated to guess, but for the time being, it was the best they could do in two hours.

"So in other words, Corporal?" Hoffman pressed,

"We can tell you it wasn't a missile, or torpedo," Bjork began, occasionally exchanging glances with Baird, and then glaring back to the Falstaff's remains.

Baird could only acknowledge Bjork's sentiment with a nod, as he watched Hoffman scan over the remains, quickly noticing the puncture point was protruding out, instead of in, which backed up Bjork's evaluation.

"So this wasn't an attack from another vessel…"

It was then that Baird couldn't play the mute part anymore. I hate looking like the one who doesn't have a fucking clue.

"We have reason to believe that someone at some point, boarded the Falstaff sometime either the night before, or earlier that morning, and placed a, what we believe, a small cluster of explosives, using celetium as a catalyst on a timer."

"Celetium?" Hoffman sputtered, turning his attention over to Michaelson, whom was just as jaw dropped as the Colonel.

Although celetium was widely used for numerous purposes, majority of its use was for vehicular maintenance, especially with aircraft, including the King Ravens. The old warehouse, before it burnt down into a heap of rubble, was a central storage facility for the substance, where the maintenance crews kept majority of the barrels. It was the perfect location since it was closest to the base airfield.

"…in theory." Baird quickly reiterated, but grudgingly. The only evidence they had to back it up was the red scorch marks on the inside of the hull.

Michaelson looked at his watch to check the time, and then glanced into the night sky. A King Raven could be seen in the distance, hovering across the open sea, which soon meant that curfew was going into effect. Hoffman let out a sigh, rubbing the back of his neck as he looked at the sad remains of Falstaff's fat ass, lying sappily on their loading dock.

Keeping his gaze at the remains while occasionally shooing the nocturnal bugs, swarming from the dock lamps above, Hoffman muttered suddenly,

"Corporal Bjork…I want your analysis report on my desk tomorrow before twelve o' hundred hours, based on what you two managed to conjure up to me as of now."

"Sir?" said Bjork, somewhat baffled as to why this was being rushed.

"You got cotton in your ears, son?" Hoffman looked up, glaring at both of them with a cold stare.

"No sir. I'll have that report on your desk, tomorrow by twelve o' hundred hours, sir," Bjork recapped.

"That's better Spades. As soon as your finished, I'm going to need you make a run into Retreat later that afternoon, so I'll need you to get on the squawk with Sergeant Jacquin, ASAP!"

"Uh…yes sir, I'm on it," Bjork gave a casual salute and then knelt down to pick up his gloves, while giving Baird a swift glance and then turns his attention to the tool bag. Redirecting his gaze to Baird, Hoffman's weathered expression turns smug,

"…and Corporal, if it isn't too much to ask, I'm going to need you to take a look at the cables at our signal towers first thing tomorrow."

"You mean all three towers?"

"Just the two that relays our signal to Retreat. I've been getting reports of some interference from their technician, after she investigated their own equipment. It's just routine, trying to troubleshoot and rule out any hardware issues."

"Sigh, understood sir," Baird replied, knowing that his day for the most part, was shot. So much for making plans to go back on the Sovereign…but then again, it beats patrolling.

"In the meantime, I'll be back on the horn with the Feral Consulate, working out the diplomatic kinks…so don't bother coming to me until you got every line checked and accounted for, Corporal."

Well my day just fell into the commode. Wait…Feral Consulate?

"The Feral have a consulate?" Baird blurted out without thinking. Bjork could be heard letting out a slight snicker as he gathered his equipment into a duffel bag.

"That's right, Corporal…" Hoffman gloated in the face of the bemused, "…so if you could, let's try to refrain ourselves, and not get her panties rolled up into a little tissy, shall we?"

The sudden revelation dropped a black veil over the vicinity, shutting Baird's mouth for the moment as silence followed, leaving only the noise of the crashing waves against the vessels parked along the dock.

As Michaelson turned to the Colonel, going back over reports from earlier in the day, Baird's mind wandered back into a frozen iceland, as pictures of a botched mission came back to light…only coming out of the frozen wasteland wasn't the only thing that still replayed ceaselessly into his memory.

Fuck, it's going to be one of those days…

Chapter 2: Shadow of a Doubt Edit

A scorching afternoon or just a blink of the late Brune, call it what you will, but by the time it got to midday, it's fucking hot. Not just the usual, sweat stain on the midback, kind-of hot, but so hot you could skillet eggs on black asphalt.

So yea, what was supposed to be a recon tour the morning before, ended up being a brief little rendezvous…the kind that was two cents from a "quickie," thanks to some dickwad who couldn't shoot his load near the shower drain, ruining it for everyone else. I would like to think humanity has learned something from our near descent into apocalypse, and that's humanity can be dropped into extinction within just a blink of an eye. But, apparently we're too thick headed to put aside our petty skirmishes any more than we could piss on the seat several times before it dawns on us to actually take the initiative to lift it.

So whatever the circumstances that may have been intended, obviously somebody had it in for a kelp trawler…yea you heard me right…a boat that harvests fucking seaweed! Look, I'm not a big fan of eating the shit, therefore I don't give a damn about harvesting it, but for fuck sake, why waste the explosives to go out and blow up a damn trawler? My only guess is that somebody hated kelp so much, they just had to end it right here, right now…riddle the hull with celetium-based explosives, ripping a hole in the chassis on the port side, consequently blowing the bow all to hell. Whatever pieces we were able to salvage from this thing, whom the ship's crew call the Falstaff, didn't really ring any bells as a terrorist attack…more like some nutcase with a vendetta against seaweed!

When I get Bjork to write out my overdue assessment, since it is widely agreed that the jackass has the better handwriting, and then toss it on Hoffman's desk, I'm really going to consider making a request to either reassign me to working on the Clement, and upgrading her sonar, or send me packing with the artillery guys…I'm getting pretty fucking tired of working with those dim douchebags I rhetorically call our "salvage crew."

Damon Baird's Journal Entry, concerning the bombing of Falstaff




Vectus Hospital-infirmary branch, two days after the bombing of Falstaff…

Sitting in the hospital waiting room as the nurse station nearby was constantly on the move, with the head nurse tending to any walk-ins for doctor placement, Captain Miller sat in partial battle fatigues with a magazine in hand, subtly watching the new "head nurse," working the console shift behind the desk. For over forty minutes, he would occasionally glance at the nurse, moving from one walk-in patient to the next, going through the usual routine of taking down their symptoms, checking their pulse and blood pressure, and then herding them to the next available doctor who had the unfortunate luck of picking the shortest straw for the early morning shift…the most hectic shift available.

Most nurses Miller often noticed were usually mild in bed manners, going through the usual motions one could possibly expect from someone who deals with people on the brink of dying, day in and day out. He expected just as much insipid bedside mannerisms with this one as well, but she wasn't. Her face was soft and lax as she spoke with each walk-in, keeping her posture erect and her expression glowing, compared to the grumpy, acidic persona Miller was normally subjected to. Her mannerisms were not of similar practice to any of Dr. Hayman's nurses, that much was for sure. He compared Hayman's nursing staff to lethargic bulldogs who gave you the kind of frumpy look that would make any man shit himself, knowing that if he gave them any lip, they wouldn't hesitate to give him a rigorous enema.

So Miller was just as precarious with Dr. Hayman, often trying to smug her with gratuitous flattery, in which she replied to him on several occasions that if he tried to sweet talk her out of a prostrate exam again, she would swab his urethra with the longest stick she had at her disposal.

Needless to say, anytime Miller had to make an appointment to see her, the doctor would place him on the bottom of her waiting list, putting off his rhetoric as long as policy would allow. It wasn't unusual for the Captain to sit in her waiting room, enjoying the scenery as much as he could by taking glances at the nurses passing by. More often than not, he could tell a nurse's name by solely looking at her ass; an uncanny ability he had used to his advantage when he was strung up on morphine or lying in a gurney. At any rate, he could tell immediately that this one was new.

Tight rump that tapers to the waist with a sharp arch in the back, giving it just the right amount of cushioning. Needless to say, she had the kind of backside that Miller could imagine banging all day and he wouldn't get bored.

He sat and watched as she slithered around the office, between answering the phone, tending to patients, or writing up inquiries for Dr. Hayman. Between her fresh but mature complexion to her slender build that he could make out, seeing past the bland, staff-issued scrubs, he guessed that she couldn't be any older than thirty years of age. Watching her from his chair while she worked, it took him awhile to make the connection of her pose, which was alert but unruffled. He took a moment to notice her dark hair, gathered up into a white handkerchief. A faint sequence of scars could be seen underneath her hairline on the back of her neck…scarification.

Peering passed the void that separated the two, Miller attempted to make out the scarring, just to make sure it was what he believed it to be. Sure enough, he could see strategically coiling markings, like knots tied into a triangular shape; ok that was intentionally done, and not some random sequence of scratches or punctures.

Although he'd seen similar methods of tattooing amongst the south islanders, even they predominantly used ink over scarification. The only other time he had seen scarification that ornate was amongst the Feral, who used the method as a means of classification. He noticed them on countless girls, often visible on one of three places on the body, including the back of the neck. The other known places were either on the left arm, which was also frequently seen, or on the lower back, just above the buttocks; not quite so frequently seen…or at least not without either getting in her pants… and then getting racked shortly afterwards.

Just as Miller finished scanning the last page of what was his fifth magazine, Dr. Hayman barged into the waiting area and quickly examined the room, only to find a relaxed Captain Miller, sitting comfortable in one of five waiting chairs, checking out her nursing staff…as usual.

Much to her dismay, Dr. Hayman finally decided to get him out of her hair.

"Alright Captain, just how long have you been sitting in my waiting room, admiring the scenery?"

"For almost an hour, ma'am…not that I'm complaining."

Not even a split second later, Hayman turned her attention to the head nurse.

"Sarai, please tend to this asshole and get him out of my office."

Sarai gave the doctor a bemused glance before the doctor retreated back from whence she came, slamming the door behind her, leaving Sarai to Miller's vices.

"Yes madam," she mumbled to herself before turning her gaze to meet his, "…and yer name, sire?"

Miller looked up as he lifted his hand behind his ear, which was still covered in gauze and tape.

Sarai moved out from behind the nurses station and walked over to Miller,

"I apologize sire…can ya hear me now?"

"Much better ma'am."

"Good, now what is yer name?"

"Miller ma'am. ID 458930."

Nodding her head in compliance, she writes his name down on the patient log on her clipboard. Walking back over to the nurse's station, she places the clipboard the desk and scans for his case file. With his folder out of sight, she starts to rummage through a stack of manila folders, set next to another stack of manila folders that have accumulated the week before.

Since the move from Farrall to Vectus, Dr. Hayman was constantly understaffed, often taking in patients a case at a time, which soon accumulated to over seven hundred patients within a few weeks, and this did not take in account of the countless patients they had to relocate from Port Farrall.

So the paperwork was the first thing to suffer under the fate of procrastination, despite a few midwives the Feral offered to aid in the COG medical branch. Dr. Hayman wasn't comfortable working with some voodoo medicine women, as she such described it, but she grudgingly allowed some of the Feral "birthers" and "avatars" to work the ward, doing minor nursing duties, as long as they wore textbook scrubs and not some form fitting, leather "catsuit," layered in piercings and warpaint.

Looking through the stack of folders, Sarai managed to find Milller's file.

"Capitan Miller?" she yelled over the desk, hoping that he would hear her raised voice. Miller looked up to lean forward from his chair, extending his good ear, motioning her to say it again.

"…are ya Capitan Miller?" she reiterated again. Miller nodded his head in compliance,

"Yea ma'am, that would be me."

Sarai meandered around the podium before making her way to the tranquil Captain, whom, unbeknownst to her, had just spent the last thirty minutes admiring her backside.

"Accordin to yer file, we're just checking yer stitches and assigning a hearing device to ya com, is dat correct, Capitan?" Sarai attempted to say aloud, despite her heavy accent, looking up from the open folder in her hand, only to find Miller locking his gaze with hers.

"That would be it, ma'am," he said smugly. She pulled up a chair next to him as she coyly sat in it, keeping her legs together and her posture poised. Almost the entire time, the Captain was able to finally ignore the bitter stench of the hospital disinfectant that resembled a concoction of bile, mixed with hydrogen peroxide, while admiring the soft rosy color in her cheeks that was glowing, along with the sheen coming from her brunette hair, all under the UV illumination, coming from the florescent lighting above. Between several bottles of half-drunken water that sat on the counter, to the bag of saltine crackers that lay half-opened on a stool nearby the station, not to mention the frequent trips to the bathroom next to the nurse station, it was an obvious scenario if Miller ever saw one. She's in gestation.

Judging by her perky rump and flat belly, Miller guessed that she was between five to eight weeks along, which explained why she was assigned to work the nurses' station with the lighter duties, which included dumping the paperwork load on the poor girl. But Sarai didn't seem the least bit distressed about it, nor did she show any signs of malcontent. It was as if Sarai was in some sort of utero bliss.

"Ok, Capitan…I need ya to turn yer head slightly," she said while carefully reaching over to Miller's bad ear, still layered in gauze, "…and I be going to…slowly pull dis off to check your stitches. Are ya ready?"

"As I ever will ma'am. Just be gentle with the hair…I gotta a reputation to maintain when it concerns my looks."

He could see Sarai let out a slight chuckle, followed by a glowing smile as she leaned over to carefully remove the tape that held the gauze over his ear. Trying not to pull it off all at once, she slowly peeled it off as Miller let out a sigh, feeling the tape that clung to his hair, tugging his scalp until the sticky end abruptly released his hair follicles from the strain.

"Oi…I sorry," Sarai said after watching Miller grimace from the slight pain. Miller could only chuckle at the Sarai's attempt to salvage his poor scalp from the adhesive bandages that stubbornly clung to his side of his head. Nevertheless, he let out a slow exhale, loosening the tension in his body as he slumped back into the chair.

Her gaze soon met with the stitches that ran directly underneath his lobe and up behind the attached cartilage as she gently moved his chin up to get a better look under the florescent lighting. Scanning the surgical incision the doctors made to salvage some of his hearing, despite that some auditory parts were beyond repair, Sarai took out a cotton swab that was already lined with peroxide, and gently dabbed the area to clean it before an auditory device could be put in place.

"Are ya doing ok, Capitan?" she asked, wondering if he was comfortable with her dabbing his stitched incision.

"Sure. Believe me when I say I've had worse…and most of that coming from the good doctor," Miller rhetorically mentioned, followed by a sudden burst of laughter coming from the shy Sarai, knowing all too well whom Miller was referring to.

"I can, only imagine," she said, trying to articulate her loose Tyran "…so how did dis happen, if ya don't mind me askin?"

"Well, I was about several feet too close to a tank shell that nearly blew me all to hell…" Miller recanted, going back over the scenario as if it was yesterday.

"What…tank shell? How'd ya…end up in front of a tank?"

"Glacier Valley…" said Miller with a hint of sarcasm.

"Oh…" Sarai mumbled slightly, suddenly putting the pieces together of the details concerning the Captain's engagement during what the men would call the Battle in Glacier Valley.

"I take it you're familiar with that little incident…"

"It was anything but little Capitan…"

"Hmmp…touché."

Miller could call to mind the bits and pieces during the aftermath of that long, blistering cold day. He could remember vividly, glancing at the countless Stranded corpses that were lying half frozen on the snow piled ground, while the remnants of the Feral militia rummaged through them, searching for ammunition and other trinkets they were known to collect from their kills. Despite nearly freezing his ass off, he stood and watched as one Feral girl, that looked no older than twenty one, took her knife and scalped a dead Stranded, holding it by the cold, matted strands of hair as she slipped it off with little effort. Her ease suggested that she had done this many times before, as she shook the removed scalp a few times to get the excess blood off before it dried.

At that point in time, everyone was too fatigued and cold to care what the Feral did with the remnant of the dead. Many of them were charred beyond recognition anyway from the napalm the Feral dropped on the Stranded militia in the near distance. Miller could acutely remember the foul stench coming from the scorched human flesh. It was an odor one could never purge from memory, once the scent hit one's nostrils. Although he'd seen some pretty grotesque images after years of fighting the Locusts, that one moment as he watched a young woman, in leather battle garb with her face layered in warpaint and two pistols strapped to a belt around her abdomen, was a scene Miller couldn't, for the life of him, comprehend.

Women are supposed to be gentle, graceful creatures of maternal indulgence…not emotionally calloused, birds of prey with an acidic tongue and a barb-wired snatch that could shear a man into shreds. It was a sobering thought for Miller, knowing that he was going to have to maintain the peace between these women and for the sake of the residents that still reside in the town of Retreat. Rumor had it that the community was less than pleased to have these wild women conjugate on their lands, even though nobody was using them for any other economical purpose.

Finishing up with the cleaning, Sarai gently released Miller's chin and tossed the swab away into an office trashcan nearby.

"Well, yer incision is healin fine…no sign of infection. I do believe ya are ready for yer audio aid."

"About time…I was given orders to deploy to Retreat as soon as I can get out of these bandages."

"To Retreat?"

"To the Feral reservation…now I don't suppose you could enlighten me how you managed to get a job here when you could have stayed out there," Miller casually hinted, knowing that she was most likely one of a handful of Feral that got knocked up during their stay at Fort Block, northwest of Port Farrall.

It wasn't completely unheard of, despite that the Feral tried to keep to themselves, confining Feral interaction with Gears for the time being; not that it wasn't to say a few didn't slip under the radar when a group of war hardened men were camping, only meters from a band of women whose primary orthodox revolves around breeding and procreation. No temptation there.

Sarai's gaze drooped as a smirk appeared from the corner of her mouth, knowing her little rendezvous was probably not under the authorization of the Feral authority, but hell, why chastise her for it now, especially since the union was productive?

"It was suggested by da therean'…"

"Therean'?"

"It is a Feral word fer medicine woman, or midwife…"

"Ah…"

"…but…she suggested dat I will find serenity, keeping my hands occupied, rather dan at da reservation."

"…and why would your, medicine woman suggest that?" Miller asked in pure curiosity.

"Well…since it was idle hands…dat got me here in da first place…" she began to say before she blushed, "…it was suggested dat I stay in close…proximity wit my morshnea…"

Sarai quickly noticed the baffled stare coming from Miller, "…morshnea' meaning, da one who fathered my child."

"I was under the impression that it wasn't common for breeders to exchange companionship with their mates…"

"Yes, dat is usually da case…" Sarai agreed as she continued, "…although some pairings…dey prefer to be…monotonous."

Miller soon noticed her bashful demeanor under his heavy ogling while she continued to browse through his file.

"…and so…you like the guy?" Miller prodded without trying to come across as condescending. He watched Sarai carefully, whom was still looking through his folder as a slight flush of color suddenly masked her face and hands. As Sarai exchanged sudden glances with the Captain, she softly shrugged her shoulders before responding,

"He does good…fer a soldier," Sarai replied as she pulled out a plastic bag from Miller's patient folder, "…now, if ya could, please turn yer head so dat I may adjust dis to yer ear."

Changing the subject rather quickly aren't we?

Without further prodding, Miller did as he was told and turns his head slightly for Sarai to apply the earpiece into his external canal, while placing the connector underneath the helix of the ear. It took a moment for Sarai to adjust it for the Captain, but eventually she made it fit comfortably. As Sarai leaned back into her chair, Miller brought his hand over this new device that was supposed to enhance all auditory transmissions, including Ops.

"Now…can ya hear me?" said Sarai, lowering the volume in her voice to see if it was working, as it should.

"Holy shit, woman…" Miller grimaced from the ringing coming from the device.

"Ack, da receptor is set too high…" Sarai confided as she leaned back over to adjust the decimal level of the receptor, "ok…how is it now?"

Miller shook his head slightly, adjusting to the ringing he experienced earlier. The words coming from the nurse was receiving clearly now.

"Oh yea. That's much better," Miller replied, bringing his hand over his ear, "…this is better than it was before. Am I also to assume that this will relay transmissions from command, is that right?"

"Yes. Any contact from command should relay into dis earpiece, while da com transmitter on yer armor will function normally."

Miller laid back into his chair as he watched Sarai scribble a few notes into his file. She looked back up, sensing his ogling as she finished updating his file.

"Ya are free ta go Capitan," she mentioned rather sarcastically. Miller then tilted his head as he propped his elbow into the lamp table next to his chair and leaned his head on his hand as he flashed her a grin,

"If I do that, then I wouldn't have the pleasure of your company, now would I..."




COG base of Operations…

Glaring over Miathesons's shoulder while the Lieutenant patched him into the com, Colonel Hoffman kept his hand over his earpiece, trying to make out a static free frequency as Miatheson tweaks the signal between channels.

"Testing frequency, one three…Retreat, Feral Outpost, please respond, over," Miatheson says against the receptor.

The static came in waves while a faint voice could be heard through the patchy signal.

"This is Retreat…Outpost…your signal is barely audible…control…"

"…Retreat Feral Outpost, to whom am I speaking, over?"

"…McNight…Feral diplomat…serial number four, six…eight, one…over."

Hoffman's ears perked up as the woman's voice on the channel was fierce but poised, knowing all too well about the quirky transmission frequency between Vectus Naval Base and the Feral reservation in Retreat. It didn't take long for the assigned Feral diplomat, Eloise Raven McNight, to weed out a laundry list of technical problems that plagued the equipment at the COG outpost, so it was no coincidence that Hoffman had the intent all along to assign the crabby Raven McNight to the technical duties at Retreat. But like any prodigal child, Hoffman picked his battles with the little Eloise carefully, knowing that the job was going to get done three times faster if Raven was on the scene, but trying to keep her under surveillance would only reveal another chink in the armor to a heap of chinks that he rhetorically called the COG security system. If there was anyone who could tear down a firewall, just out of spite because she stubbed her toe on the bedpost earlier that morning, it was Raven.

The only thing that Hoffman had to keep little Ellie in her place was the fact that she was on diplomatic immunity from Feral breeding obligations; a pink slip that Hoffman had on several occasions fallen back on to remind Raven where she stood in the grander scheme of things. He knew it was a rather political low for him, but he was intent on keeping Raven out of trouble, or for the most part, out of harms way, since Raven has long been notorious for getting in over her head with even the most trivial of things; whether it be hacking into the COG mainframe, or getting into a heated flak fest with COG personnel, which she has done on several occasions that he knew about.

"Maitheson…try channel five," Hoffman ordered.

"Affirmative sir…"

"McNight, this is Hoffman speaking…we're changing the channel, please respond, over."

The static subsided slightly as Miatheson continued to fish around the open frequency, turning the knob slowly, pinning in on the transmission.

"Colonel…can you read me, over?"

Raven's ball-crushing voice was much more audible now as Hoffman responds to her request,

"Roger that, McNight. Is the channel working out for you out there?"

"Barely Colonel. If you can hear me clearly at your station then it's probably our tower…I may have to reset it manually to get a clearer signal…over."

"Roger that McNight. How long before you can reset the tower?"

"Depending on the age of the tower. Frankly it doesn't look all that old, so if my assumptions is correct, I should be able to get it reset later this afternoon. If it's an older tower, it's going to be a few days."

"A few days?"

"Older towers are hardwired and senile Colonel…you would know…over."

Miatheson brought his hand over his mouth to keep the snickering to a minimal, or at least not within Colonel's audible range. Hoffman just stood there, nodding his head at Raven's blunt observation.

"I'll try to remember that, McNight. In the meantime, I can send a team if you need…"

"Don't bother, Colonel. You of all people should know that those morons you call "technical support" can't even hope to place their knob in the right hole before realizing they should probably turn on the fucking light…"

Miatheson sat with his hand over his forehead, clearing his throat while listening to the inevitable noose being tied by the unenthusiastic diplomat. As many times that he had dealt with politicians, he never confronted one that was so pessimistic or cantankerous. Yea, this is going to prove interesting in the next few weeks.

Hoffman could only curl his lip, grumbling to himself as he placed his hands on his hip. He figured Ellie would get her jabs in any chance she got, not that Colonel Hoffman couldn't handle it. He's dealt with her little nit picks before, but so long as the little bitch delivered, Victor Hoffman gave Raven the illusion of having some control over herself, keeping her tendencies preoccupied rather than fidgeting into other ventures that were less constructive.

Miatheson was at a loss as to why the Colonel would go to great lengths to put up with her rhetoric, but at the same time, he knew that it was necessary to establish and maintain Feral /COG relations. With Raven being one of a very few, whom could speak fluent Tyran and was familiar with the COG culture and agendas, Raven seemed to be the more logical choice to aid the COG with diplomatic solutions that would benefit both factions. Prescott wouldn't have it any other way…imagine that.

"Get back with me ASAP on your progress, McNight…"

"…of course Colonel. I should have an answer for you later today. McNight out."

Hoffman was grumbling to himself while Miatheson sat up in his chair, setting the compound feed back on-line.

"Looks like you got another inquiry, sir," said Miatheson as he places the line on hold.

"Go ahead, Lieutenant…" Hoffman sighed while Miatheson put the oncoming call on speaker.

"Six, five, nine…this is Corporal Bjork, over…"

"I can read you, Corporal…you got that assessment yet?"

"Affirmative sir…in fact…I am on my way to your office now to drop that off, right now."

"Well that is nice to know Spades…I am so derisively thrilled that you've managed to do what most other sane people would rather set themselves on fire before they even contemplated working, much less communing with Corporal Baird…"

"What can I say, sir…I aim to please."

Hoffman let out a slight chuckle at the eccentric techhead,

"Dually noted Corporal…lay it on my desk and get ready to go to Retreat."

"You got it, sir. Bjork out."

Chapter 3: Reminiscing Edit

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now, It's just a spring clean for the May queen.

Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, There's still time to change the road you're on.

Your head is humming and it won't go, in case you don't know, The piper's calling you to join him.

Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow? And did you know, your stairway lies on the whispering wind?


Stairway To Heaven
Led Zepplin

Log Date: 14 Frost A.E.


The new Feral Consulate has made it abundantly clear that if in the event the COG decides to lapse in treaty, the Feral will, and I quote:

"…will remedy such deceit by castration, fundamentally severing the Gear war machine by the balls, and will display them for the natives of Pelruan to see, in case their Commander, Trescu has any second thoughts of following suit…"

Frankly, I have reason to believe that the "Consulate" is just being viciously vindictive because she doesn't like her present occupation, and is still pissed at me for forgetting to put the toilet seat down in the outpost bathroom. Nevertheless, I would strongly suggest for future negotiations that the Chairman would please tread carefully when it concerns the Feral ethos and their present alliance. I really don't feel like being the first probable casualty of a estrogen-based, political uprising.

Sergeant Lucius Jacquin

Later in the afternoon, at the Retreat Com station, next to the tower…

Coming to the en of a long and aggravating day, Eloise "Raven" McNight threw her Phillips-head screwdriver back into a decaying, metal toolbox that was on the verge of being tossed into the scrap yard. The only thing that was literally holding it together was duct tape, layered profusely around the reinforced corners to keep the damn thing together so it could retain the contents inside from falling out…that's if the handle doesn't break off first.

Taking a seat on giant wooden spool that was probably dumped from a nearby construction site, Raven leans back, stretching out her grimy, bare feet while pulling up her two sizes too big pants that was hanging by a tattered leather belt she had to puncture some more holes, just to get it to fit right. A white bandana was tied around her head, keeping her black locks of hair that was long overdue for a haircut, out of her face and eyes. She started to wipe her hands on her already, grease splotched apron that was tied over a floral blouse she managed to find in a rag box at the maintenance station. Shame really…its kind of a nice blouse…minus the big rip on the side.

Taking a breath of fresh air from the musty, stale quarters inside the utility room next to the com tower, Raven leaned back to catch a faint breeze that encircled the area, and then soon dissipated just as fast. She brought up her hand to wipe the sweat that was collecting on the bottom of her jaw line, after spending most of her afternoon rummaging through every circuit breaker in the complex, testing them to make sure they were getting enough output to properly push the frequency of the tower. So far, the major components seemed intact, so it can't be this tower that's causing the problem.

Despite the workload Hoffman dumped on her earlier that morning, she found some serenity in isolation, finding repose in solitude from the overbearing new responsibilities she was going to have to endure when Prescott calls a diplomatic meeting, which was scheduled the following day. As she sits back and takes a moment to ponder, among a list of other ventures that ran insistently through her head as of late, she was beginning to understand why Damon preferred seclusion over having to constantly commune with other people; and it was normally with people who didn't have the slightest clue about the labor they were sent to aid. Therefore, they just pretended they knew what the hell was going on, constantly telling the one who actually knew how to reroute a line, their lame attempt on how to do it.

If Hoffman wants me to do something, preferably right and not half-assed, then he needs to stop sending me those eggheads from general maintenance.

The tension in her shoulders was a sign of her lingering too long in malcontent, thoughts of everything and anything that could go wrong will inevitably will. The major career change from running around all over Glacier Valley, doing reconnaissance work, to playing politics while sitting under a radar all day by Hoffman's assigned babysitter, was a feat of dread in itself. Although sometimes Hoffman would assign some doofus noob to parade behind her wherever she went, as of late, her whereabouts have been under close surveillance by the unflustered Sergeant Jacquin.

Most of her escorts were pretty naive and have a meager means of what someone may call "common sense," so it was all too easy to talk them into randomly doing something while Raven made the most of the time in their absence. Lucius, on the other hand, wasn't near as dense, much less gullible, which may explain why Hoffman was adamant that Sergeant Lucius Jacquin would be stationed in Retreat in the first place…that crafty old bastard.

Needless to say, whatever fun Raven may have had, if there was any to be had, it didn't take much for Lucius to ruin it. Shit, I swear that man has a sixth sense for tomfoolery.

The late afternoon sun hung heavy near the edge of the horizon as the rumblings coming from her core began to groan; damn…I haven't eaten anything since morning. Leaning down to roll her baggy pants up to her knees, the heavy steps of the oddly tranquil Sergeant could be easily heard, walking calmly without alarm as Lucius picked his feet up to avoid tripping over the array of random parts, scattered all over the vicinity. Speak of the devil…

Whatever Raven managed to find from salvage, she used to make a few repairs here and there, but the source of the communication signal still eluded her. It wasn't so much that she didn't know what the problem was that irritated her, but the fact that she was going to have to spend some unforeseen time at Vectus Naval base. Sigh, I really hate going there.

"Madame Feral…" the mellow voice of the towering Gear began while still trying to tiptoe delicately over Raven's mess.

"…please don't call me that, Sergeant. I really hate that name," Raven growls while still rolling up her pants, one leg at a time. Finally making to his destination without unintentionally breaking something under his heavy boots, Lucius stood with his hands on his hips, letting out a long sigh,

"…well…then what would you like me to call you?" he asks sincerely.

"Anything but that…"

"Alright. Ellie it is…" Lucius muses as he observes Raven flashing him a looming glare; the kind that could cause paint to blister and peel with her smoldering blue eyes. Lucius knew that she hated being called Ellie too, but the only person that would ever call her that without getting singed by Raven's fire-spitting tongue, was Hoffman.

In hindsight, however, Raven knew she didn't stand much of a chance against the likes of Lucius. The man stood six foot four, before he put on his boots, and his mass was just as equally intimidating. But the one thing that Raven knew that would usually beckon her to think twice about getting into a skirmish with the composed Sergeant was that he was also affluent in the art of acupressure and its martial properties. With a single touch in the right spot, the Sergeant could immobilize a person instantly; she'd seen him do it before with an unruly citizen at a local bar after being called in to break up a fight.

To really top it off, he was widely respected by Hoffman and his fellow officers. Whenever the chance would arise, Hoffman would more often than not send Lucius to address morale issues among the men, often conducting arrests. Lucius wasn't necessarily a man of few words like the drab and obscure demeanor of Marcus Fenix, but was more attentive with his character when he did present himself to people.

But despite his intimidating poise, Raven wasn't one to be so submissive; not to anyone, much less Lucius. Therefore she uses her other talents to undermine him.

"Let me guess…Hoffman wants an update…" Raven sneers, tossing her other screwdriver into the makeshift, duct-taped toolbox.

"Actually, I was sent here at the request of Captain Miller…" Lucius corrects her. Raven gives Lucius a preoccupied expression,

"Say who?"

"Captain Jonathan Miller…I'm sure you remember him from our debriefings. We've only discussed about getting another officer here for over two weeks now…" Lucius suitably reminds her, despite her rhetorical demeanor.

"…yea, well I slept since then Sergeant."

"Uh huh…I can tell."

Lucius had long known Raven to get up long before the butt-crack of dawn, spending an hour doing some sort of breathing and strengthening exorcises, and occupying herself the rest of day, up into the late evening, addressing the usual issues that besieged the outpost; mostly outdated computer consoles, minor wiring corrosion, and software updates. It was the fact that Raven insisted on doing everything herself is what annoyed Lucius the most, not once requesting his assistance over the more trivial things, like reaching something from the top shelf in the supply house. No instead, she recklessly climbs the damn shelf to get to a storage box, and then ends up falling down in the process, taking the rest of the contents on the top shelf with her; consequently spraining a wrist and nearly re-breaking her maimed leg that was just beginning to mend. Did it ever dawn on her to ask me to just reach and get it for her, hell no…

It was the usual shit that Raven would intentionally neglect to avoid contact with anyone stationed at the outpost, which needless to say kept Lucius on his toes, just as Hoffman warned him it would be.

"So what is it Sergeant?" Raven grumbles at the towering Sergeant, "…because I can tell by that dumbfounded look on your face that you didn't come all the way over here just to give Hoffman a progress report on my behavior…"

"…which I would give a N for needing improvement…" Lucius gloats in return, "…no, I have better things to do with my time…"

"Good. You see, we can agree on some things after all, Sergeant."

Lucius only gave Raven a glare that would melt a block of cheese, knowing full well that Raven was just being a einhea', which was Feral term for a "horses ass."

"What I came to incur upon you, as a result of an apparent lapse in your memory, that you need to report to the drop off station…"

"…yes, I know I'm supposed to go to the navel base first thing in the morning, I got it," she cuts him off while gathering leaning over to gather her tools.

"Correction…five in the morning."

"Ok, now why so fucking early?"

"Captains orders, Ellie…"

Shit…I really hate that name too.

"Oh, so he's officially giving me orders now? He's not even stationed here yet, and he has the audacity to radio the outpost and give orders? Fuck him…if he wants to be in command, then he needs to drag his sorry ass here and then tell them to me himself, instead of sending his butt boy to do it for him!"

"He is here…"

"Wait…what?"

"I think you heard me…" says Lucius as he turns to his com, "…did you get all that Captain?"

"Yea…every word of it, Sergeant."

Raven slumps in her seat at the sound of Miller's voice, coming from the Sergeant's com, as she angrily chunks her other wrench into the toolbox,

"…tell Mrs. McNight that she is to report her crabby ass to my office…now!"

Lucius flashes a condescending grin as he turns his attention to the irate Raven,

"Did you hear that…or do I need to reiterate it for you, incase you didn't get it the first time?"




As the evening sun hung behind the mountains, the hot, humid air was beginning thin under a cool breeze coming from the ocean front back in Vectus Naval base. The climate was more tolerable now than it had been the rest of the day, not that it was any improvement for Raven's disposition.

Walking towards the outpost quarters, which was nothing more than a large metal building that sat next to an old airfield. Across from the runway was the air-control tower along with several garages that stored old military and cargo planes while the runway extended over thirty acres of flatland across what may have been a crop field at one time. Judging by the wild wheat stems that littered the grassy medians between the lanes, Retreat must have been central location for grain harvesting, before they relocated to more fertile lands after using up this one, and then decided to build an airfield on it.

Walking on bare feet, Raven walked on the most calloused part of her feet on the coarse concrete lot that extended from the building ahead, carrying her somewhat functional toolbox in one hand and a duffle bag filled with miscellaneous computer components in the other. Walking a few steps behind her was Lucius, whom was making himself somewhat useful by carrying her boots and tool belt, despite that she insisted that she could do it herself, regardless of the load she was already struggling to carry. Lucius knew all too well that Raven's stubborn demeanor was just a precursor of things to come…it's going to be a long week.

Walking closer to the headquarters entrance, Captain Miller could already be seen, sitting in a metal chair next to a fold-out table, sipping on coffee; the only cup of coffee he was able to find in abundance since his squad's old-time medic, Grimes would often beat him to it and in large quantities, leaving no coffee left for anyone else. Along with two other Gears that stood behind him, they waited underneath a wrap around porch that covered around the entire building.

Sitting on the west side of the building, Miller was observing the setting sun that sprayed the horizon with an array of colors, until he redirected his attention to the shabby clothed Feral Consulate, carrying an old toolbox littered with duct-tape to keep the shit inside from falling out of it. With his feet already propped up on the metal railing that ran along the porch, Miller leans over to get a better look at the ornery Feral he has come to know as Eloise McNight.

"Well, well…the crow has come back to roost…" Miller gloats as he takes his feet off the railing and proceeds to stand up.

In the process of limping while walking her tender feet on the course concrete, Raven could feel the muscle in her left calf cramp up, throwing just one more obstacle to her journey from the com tower to the outpost "headquarters," which was nothing more than an old, small-town airport with a plane junk yard nearby. I'm willing to bet Damon would have a field day if he ever discovered that…which gave Raven more incentive NOT to tell him about it, or he would raid it of all the good stuff.

She finally manages to get to the porch where she finds the ecstatic Captain standing from his chair with a cup of coffee in his hand, along with two other Gears whom she had not seen before. Lucius was next to follow as he exchanges glances with his fellow Gears acknowledging Captain Miller with a nod.

"Lucius…always a pleasure to see you…" Miller began before he turned his attention back to Raven, "…and I don't believe that you, Madam Feral, understand how lucky you are to have a soldier of great valor as your personal escort…"

"Wow, I had no idea I was so fucking privileged…and since when did this become personal, Captain?" Raven growls as she comes to a stop, consequently dropping her toolbox that for the most part was not really all that heavy, until you carry it a few kilometers without break…damnit, now my shoulder hurts.

Despite Raven's sarcasm, Miller just returns a warm smile, knowing that Eloise was just being Eloise, as Hoffman would rhetorically put it. Stepping out from behind the table, Miller calmly approached the fatigued Raven, still massaging her shoulder from the strain of carrying that damn toolbox…maybe I should have let Lucius carry it for me. He looks like he would make a great mule.

"As of today at o' seventeen hours," Miller began, keeping his gaze locked on Raven's, whom was not the least amused despite Miller's warm smug, "…Sergeant Lucius Jacquin will be accompanying you from here on out, and he will escort you to Vesctus Naval base tomorrow."

Although Raven did have much to say, the pain in her calf, feet and shoulders only compelled her to grunt in response, followed by a groan as she nodded; yay.

Moving over to the side, Miller extends his arm towards the door, gesturing for Raven and Lucius to enter,

"Madam Feral if you could please…" he requests, and then turns to the other Gears, "…gentlemen, please wait here."

"Yes sir," the younger man responds.

Trying to get brownie points already…damn Gears, Raven mumbles to herself.

Entering the old office that was still musty from being enclosed for along period of time, Raven could only sigh, trying not to let the stench bother her too much, but in retrospect, everything was just bothering her today…what's one more thing? Lucius was the last to enter, closing the door slightly behind them while the Captain moved over to the only window in the ten by ten, foot office and cracks it slightly to let the northern breeze finally circulate inside the stuffy office. Apparently Raven wasn't the only one who thought this place stunk.

"I made an effort to find something more presentable for your meeting with Prescott tomorrow, so it would be greatly appreciated if you wear it..." Miller began before thoughts of dismay began to run through Raven's forethought.

So I'm a fucking dress up doll now…what the Hell?

Raven stood irate at the front of Miller's wooden desk that looked as if it had just been only recently renovated; renovated, as in taking a paint stripper to it and then slapping some other bland-colored paint on the already poorly, refurbished wood. Before continuing his statement, Miller takes a seat in the lounge chair behind it.

"I have placed your "attire" in your…I presume to be, your quarters?" he conveniently elaborates. He wasn't quite sure what to call Raven's temporary living space, which consisted of a vinyl tent that was propped up under a large oak tree to help keep the sun from fading the material, or scorching it beyond recognition.

Raven only gave him a cold glare in return, not the least bit amused with his lame attempt of trying to be hospitable. With that, Miller could only sigh as he continues,

"Anyway, to make a long story short, the Colonel expects you to dress accordingly. You're free to bring other attire for other purposes, but Hoffmann insists on you to act and appear presentable."

"Of course he does…" Raven could only mutter in response…I can thank my mother for this.

"This will be the first meeting with Commander Trescu of the Gorasni and therefore I cannot begin to tell you how important this is for the welfare of the COG and Feral relations to the Goresni…"

"We don't need the Gorasni, Captain…and we certainly don't need their fuel."

"…but you do need their grain supply."

"We need goats and horses, Captain. We need land for grazing…but the first thing I will ask at this meeting of vast importance, is to remove the ban over the Feral accessing ammunitions."

Yea, I kinda saw that one coming, Lucius thought to himself.

Knowing full well of the stock portions of firearms that the Feral have long accumulated, it wasn't soon thereof for the COG to limit ammunition supplies to the Feral, claiming that the COG needed their ammunitions their own military; a military that would provide secure borders for the Feral and their general welfare, the COG quickly added. It was a decision that has since then been a cause for some animosity amongst the Feral, but for the sake of establishing better relations, Paroux tolerated the treaty terms for now. The ban, however, did not impede their ability to forging swords and other cutlery, which offered some relief to quench some opposable enmity.

"Well at least try to keep your rhetoric civil, rather than falling back to your usual means of negotiating, or the lack thereof…" Miller quickly adds as he props his feet on the desk, consequently leaning back into his chair, "…and while we're on the topic, Eloise…"

"Son of a bitch, you know I really hate being called that…"

"If I may be so bold as to remind you, Madame Feral…as it stands, your utero asset is worth more than your poise, so I would suggest you stay within terms of your present occupation, Eloise."

After Miller abruptly cuts Raven off, Raven musters enough strength in sore shoulder to raise her arm and extend her middle finger, just enough for the Captain to see. Reveling in the predicament he put her in, he could only return a smile as places his hand over his chest,

"Anytime sweetheart…"

"Spare me your libido, Captain. Believe it or not, I do have other shit I need to get done before I go to the Navel base…so if you could, just cut the crap and tell me why I'm here other than for your personal amusement!"

Lucius expediently clears his throat while rubbing the back of his neck, wondering if the Captain knew what he was getting into. The awkward silence that was festering between the three was accommodating before Miller began to chuckle out loud, leaning further into his chair as he places his hands behind his head.

Lucius takes it upon himself to instigate the conversation as he steps in between the two, turning his gaze to the smug Miller.

"I believe what the Feral Consulate was intending to articulate is that she has other obligatory duties to attend to before the day is done, Captain…"

After rolling his eyes, Miller continues,

"Alright Sergeant…for the sake of your sanity I'll get to the point…but only because the Consulate asked nicely…"

After swinging his feet off of the desk, Miller opens a drawer to reach in and pull out a manila folder. Slapping it on the desk, Miller leans over as he opens it, pulling out what appeared to a series of assessment reports that were sloppily hand-written.

"Recently we received this fax from command, concerning an assessment of the com tower that relays the signal to the tower here in Retreat. One of our techs has managed to simulate it earlier today, and the tower checks out…"

"The tower here is also functioning within normal parameters," Raven was quick to analyze before giving Miller a chance to continue, "…I've already faxed Hoffman to inform him of my inquiry. Whatever the source that is causing the networking issues, it's not the com stations…"

"…then you are to report to Colonel Hoffman shortly after your meeting with Prescott to resolve the matter."

"What…why? Why can't their tech-heads figure it out on their own…especially if it's a software issue…"

"If it is in fact a software issue, Hoffman has orders to have you address it at Vectus Naval Base, rather than trying to troubleshoot it from here."

Raven throws her arms in the air in exasperation,

"Then that means I'm going to end up staying in base a lot longer than I originally anticipated…"

"Yea, that seems to be the case, Feral," Miller suitably reiterates.

Placing her hands on her hips, she glares menacingly at the amused Captain,

"Then I will need a full analysis report of the problem when I get there, and preferably not some poorly hand-written scribble on a bar napkin…"

Lucius lets out a slight chuckle, taking a guess that Raven had to read one of Corporal Bjork's quick-time diagnostics, which he routinely did on some bar stool while playing Poker at the same time.

"Well…when you get to Vectus, Hoffman will …"

"…refer me to I.T.; yea I get it. So can I go now…I haven't eaten anything since this morning and I'm really not in the mood for going over any systems analysis right now."

Miller sits up in his seat and closes up the folder before giving Raven a glance of sarcasm.

"Alright McNight…but you are to report to Vectus by o' seven hundred hours."

"Seriously, why in the hell is Prescott holding a meeting that fucking early in the morning?"

Bringing his hands to his chest, Miller responds, "Look, I just tell it like it is. I assure you that the Chairman has you and the Feral's better interest in mind when it…"

"…are we done here Captain?" Raven abruptly interrupts Miller, while Lucius takes the opportunity to intervene.

"I'll have the packhorse ready and waiting by o' six hundred hours, Madam Feral," Lucius jumps in, "…and Hoffman has made mention that you will have an on-base security clearance and diplomatic immunity…so do yourself a favor and at least save face by just playing along."

Placing her hands on her hips, Raven lets out a grumbling sigh.

"Fine…I'll be here by six o' hundred hours," Raven sneers, "…and with that said, you better be ready to move when I arrive, Sergeant."

Not giving either men the satisfaction of getting another word in, Raven quickly snatches her things and storms out of the office and slamming the door behind her, leaving the two somewhat bemused as to what to say next.

Miller finally leans back in his desk as he removes his COG tags from around his neck and tosses them on the desk,

"Well, I guess I'm in for an interesting few months," Miller groans, cupping his hands over his sweat-dampened hair and then slicking it back, "…shit, are all of them like this?"

Lucius lets out a groan as he leans against the wall, rubbing the back of his neck,

"That heavily depends on the ebb of their flow, Captain."

"Pfft…well then I guess I'm seriously fucked."

Chapter 4: Frosts' Cold Shoulder Edit

"...as radically demented and insane that bastard Morose was, he was right all along...this idea of salvaging and rebuilding humanity under Chairman Prescott's so-called "treaty" is a sick joke he uses to unilaterally unite us all under one flag. It's the golden rule...whoever has all the gold, makes the rules...and with Pelruan's rig under his belt while dangling a carrot in front of Trescu to keep him in perspective, or at least the one Prescott would have him believe, we're all just pawns intertwined in this political machine."

Madame Feral, Eloise "Raven" McNight, concerning the Vectus Unification and Amnesty Act




The following early morning...

The night curtain still hung heavy over the early morning sky, with only the faint twilight coming from the soft afterglow of the rising sun was remotely visible. The drive to the newly COG headquarters at the Vectus Navel base, from Retreat was almost fifty miles; a straight shot on the Highway 50 loop.

Raven McNight sat slumped along the passenger seat in the Packhorse, gazing out the window into the dark void while the local radio station played dismal country music almost the entire drive since departure. They were just now heading to the intersection that split the road into two, taking the west detour.

Sergeant Lucius Jacquin took it upon himself to drive Raven to the naval base, giving him an opportunity to get out of Retreat. The town was, for the most part, isolated from the rest of Vectus Island, compared to other neighboring towns. The civilian population was small and had little, if any tourist interest, leaving modest incentive for anyone to go there, especially since the town sat snug next to a inactive volcano the community calls Mount Kevlar.

Civilian and Feral relations have been steady as of recent, not wavering to one extreme or the next, but on the edge of tolerance that neither was willing to bend for the other. Lucius was quick to pick up on some Feral customs, much of which actually made some sense if one would only examine them from an objective point of view, rather than filter it through some moral sift, dampening it into a preordained moral context. The Feral had their own cultural ethos with reason, but trying to relay that to the civilians of Retreat was another matter of diverse complexity.

Not a day went by where Lucius would be on the phone with the mayor, or chief of security, explaining to him the Feral orthodox and habits, which for the most part seemed to be a mute manner when it concerned the townsfolk in Retreat. The idea of having wild women with a reputation for being malicious, running around close to their borders did not settle well with Retreat authorities, despite that the Feral have been pretty vigorous about keeping their "explorations" and training confined within reservation parameters. Although there were times that Lucius did have to wonder why the Feral insisted on riding their horses in the nude, he did understand the festering heat that was poignant all over Vectus, with Retreat being one of the "hot spots" due to it's geology in relation to warm air masses coming in from all sides of the island. Is it any wonder nobody grows crops here anymore.

As the Sergeant kept his eyes on the road, occasionally sipping on some coffee he packed into his canteen, he shifted in his seat with the window partially down to let some air circulate in the truck. Even in the early morning, the heat index from the day prior was still festering, consequently giving him incentive to keep his armor light. He put his chest plate behind his seat while wearing his bottom fatigues with his Snub in his side holster and his old precinct shotgun strapped to his leg. Raven would occasionally glance over, observing the mute Sergeant as he drove along without so much as even whistling to the bland tunes on the radio. Lucius could tell that Raven was bored as he kept her demeanor in his peripheral vision, something that became habit for him since it was widely rumored amongst the Gears about the Feral being unpredictably devious…imagine that.

For the most part, the Feral kept their musings to themselves when it concerned Lucius, but it didn't stop some inevitable girl gossip, as Raven put it, and she didn't blame them too much. Lucius was an impressive specimen with notable genetics and a calm poise. He was certainly an emblem of what a man had to offer, but Raven kept her own evaluations subjective. He's a Gear…nothing more and nothing less…and that in itself automatically put him on her asshole list, along with every other Gear she came across, with Captain Miller being somewhere in the top five.

Nevertheless, she would much rather be in Lucius' company than that of Hoffman's, and most certainly Millers'. Occasionally taking glances at the Sergeant, she noticed that his shoulder length, dark hair was pulled back with a rubber band, instead of tucked under his usual terribly faded, tethered bandana he normally wore…probably because it's just too hot. As long as his hair was away from his face, regulation was lenient concerning dress code, especially since there really weren't enough barbers available to keep up with demand. He kept his face pretty clean shaven though, which was surprising since it was more common for Gears to have some patch of hair on their chin as a badge or preserved emblem of their masculinity, which Raven took to it as more of a lame motif to indicate that "yes…you surpassed puberty."

Despite his intimidating size and build, Lucius was for the most part mild and serene, and has thus far, been exceedingly patient with the Feral and their quirks that can appear overwhelming for anyone to undertake. She would even go as far to say that his tolerance was admirable for a male of his profession; but when it came to road trips, he was about as much fun to talk to as a tax audit.

Feeling the glum demeanor that was lingering in the cabin of the Packhorse, Lucius was getting tired of Raven amusing herself by ogling at the side of his face, minutes at a time for the sake of antagonizing him. Lucius let out a sigh as he finally broke the silence,

"Yes Madam Feral?" he finally acknowledges Raven.

Raven let out a sigh as she decided to stir the grass to startle the snake, to at least find some means of conversation for the sake of salvaging her sanity from a boring trip she really didn't feel like venturing in the first place.

"Are we there yet?" Raven sarcastically gripes. Lucius lets out a chuckle, knowing that Madam Eloise McNight was a stickler for details and would often shake the boat to stir a response for the sake of being pragmatic. Although she was just trying to get a rise out of him for her own amusement, he entertains her provocation.

"What would you say if I told you that we will be pulling up into the command center within two minutes?" Lucius responds.

"Then I would say that your demographics is miserably off, and if it was up to me then I would have you fired for your incompetence…" Raven snorts. A slight grin could be seen, coming from the corner of Lucius' mouth, finding amusement in Raven's habitual rhetoric,

"Well, then I guess I should be thankful that it isn't up to you…and by the way, the Colonel has ordered me to take you to headquarters first."

"Damnit, what the hell did I do now to give old man Hoffman a hernia?" she groans, rubbing her forehead while leaning on the arm of her chair.

"The Gorasni have recently been offering diplomatic intervention in response to some minor disruptions from Stranded pirates…"

"So we're calling incidents that involve blowing up civilian trawlers minor now…"

Although the delivery in her statement was monotone, the sarcasm presented was ear shattering to say the least. Lucius could sense Raven sharpening her tools, steadily picking a hole in the wall until she can finally see through a barrier that was not meant to be punctured. Nevertheless, he entertains her prying,

"The Chairman has requested open dialogue with the Pelruan,"

"…so let me guess. I too am going to have to commune with the Pelruan…"

"I would assume so…"

"Shit."

Lucius kept his musings to himself, especially since he really didn't blame Raven for her guarded perception of the Pelruan Commander, Trescu. COG relations with the Gorasni in general was going to be a fickle process, but it was something Chairman Prescott couldn't afford to ignore, even if he wanted to, which he didn't. That was the part that Lucius found the most dubious about the whole thing.

"If I may offer a suggestion, since you and I or going to be spending some more time in this political muck than either of us care to know, try to keep your usual means of diplomatic solutions to the Reverend Mother and just gather the details she will need to mandate future decisions."

"I understand my job, Sergeant…"

"The last time you reiterated that, you informed Major Reid that if he was any closer to sniffing Prescott's ass, he'd may as well hump his leg to finish the job."

"The man is useless Sergeant…God help us if and when, old man Hoffman kicks the bucket and he takes over!"

"…and then you would have to answer to him. Irony at it's best, Ellie," Lucius snickers, knowing that Raven had just put herself in a quarry that left little wiggle room for a more witty comeback.

"Technically, if any Feral diplomacy is to take seed and surface, then he'll need to tread very softly, especially around Paroux," Raven grumbles back.

Lucius nods to himself, knowing that the senior Reverend Mother was very sharp and precise with such things, using her uncanny ability to maintain and subject mediation at her whim. It would be a very rude awakening indeed for the likes of some of the less competent COG personnel to even attempt to relate to a woman of such caliber. I hope they know that this is a woman who has probably killed more men than cancer.

Manually slowing the Packhorse down, Lucius peers out from the windshield and into the dense fog that hovered the road. Briefly passing a sign that indicated five more miles to Vectus Navel Base, Lucius pulls the Packhorse into the far right lane, preparing for exit.

"So…are you ready for this?" Lucius asks.

"As ready as you are, Sergeant."

Lucius could only let out a sigh as he switches his turn signal before coming up to the exit ahead. Driving down the ramp, Lucius slows the truck down before coming to a traffic light up ahead. Shortly before coming to a stop at the intersection, he soon spotted road dividers with COG soldiers stationed at each corner…ok what's up with this? Are they here to direct traffic?

Carefully watching the soldiers standing at the corner, he proceeded to pass though without delay before he caught a glimpse of what appeared to be several derricks up ahead, blocking part of the road.

"What the…" Lucius couldn't help to mutter, slowing the packhorse to meander the traffic cones, dwindling the six-lane road down to two.

"Well, it's not even dawn yet, and we're already having issues…" Raven grumbles as she leans into her seat to fold her arms, glaring at the clock on the dashboard. At this rate, there's no way in hell we're going to get there in time.

"Hold on for a minute…I'm sure there's a logical explanation…" Lucius tries to reassure her, but he could feel the weight of her impatience hammering against his head…there better be a logical excuse…

Coming towards to what appeared to be a checkpoint, a soldier hops down from the parked derrick and makes his way to the Packhorse, waving his hands as Lucius brings the truck to a full stop. He reaches over to manually lower the window down before a scruffy-looking Gear, most likely a conscript, walking over to the driver side compartment.

"Morning sir…" he opens up with a warm expression, "…can I get a positive on yer I.D. sir?"

"Of course soldier…" Lucius returns the favor, extending his hand to show his I.D. card.

Coming up to the window, Lucius could tell that the soldier was probably sitting up all night checking traffic, judging by the stench of coffee coming from his open canteen. Glaring at Lucius' card carefully with a flashlight under the haze of the early morning lighting, Lucius could make out the bags under the soldiers eyes; yea, he's had a long night.

"Hehe, welcome back to Vectus Naval Base Sergeant Jacquin…unfortunately, I got some bad news for you Sergeant…"

"Did they delete my clearance in the system again?" Lucius groans, knowing that the COG security team was just as undermanned as they were incompetent, especially when it came to computing officer I.D.'s into the database.

"Nah, you're still under clearance. It's just ever since the locals found out that Prescott is going have his meetin' with the Pelruan commander, it seems like they rounded up every able man and woman to rally up at the base entrance for protest, blockin' anyone comin' in and going out. We had to station the derricks at every checkpoint to redirect COG personnel into base."

"So the only way in is…"

"…on foot, at the East Gate," the soldier finishes for him, "…I apologize for the inconvenience for you and da little lady, Sergeant…"

"Yea, well…" Lucius pauses to clear his throat," …unfortunately for all of us, the little lady is the Feral Consulate…"

"You're shittin me!"

"Afraid not. We need to somehow get into base…" says Lucius as he takes another glance at a road map taped to his dashboard. He then looks back up to retrieve his clearance card.

"What's your name soldier?" Lucius asks him.

"Leminowski, sir…but everyone 'round here just calls me Lenny…"

"Well Lenny, can we have some ground service, just in case?"

"By all means Sergeant. Normally I would call the boys on dem recon bikes, but…we can't even access the fuel tanks. Them civvies made sure of that!"

"When did this all start?"

"In the middle of the night. They came in by the hundreds Sarge, starting with the fleet entry on the south side."

"Shit…and we're just now finding out about it?"

"The com system is probably still on the fritz, Sergeant," Raven interrupts the two men as she opens the door and exits the vehicle, "…they probably had to direct all communications to the outposts and checkpoints…"

Lenny stood back in awe at the Feral Consulate's empirical skills, watching her yank her bag out from the truck and slamming the door.

"Well, the little lady hit the nail on the head, Sarge," Lenny adds. Lucius could only sigh as he too opens the door to exit the vehicle.

"Alright Lenny, so what do we got?" Lucius asks.

"Gimme a minute Sarge and I can call some boys to escort you to the East Gate. It's only a twenty minute hike from here."

Pulling out his radio, Lenny stood back to give Lucius some room to open up the back compartment of the Packhorse to pull out his chest plate and ammo belt.

"Hey Randy…you there, over…" Lenny calls on the hand held radio. Putting on his chest plate, Lucius turns to face Lenny while he straps his armor into place.

"Would it be ok if I take my side arms?" Lucius asks.

"Be my guest Sergeant. I don't trust them civvies anymore than I can flick a beer bottle at em from scope distance…and with a diplomat, hell, I'll let you take a spare Plancer if ya want."

"I'll manage Private…" says Lucius as he slaps a clip into his Snub pistol and then puts it back into his holster. Raven works her away around the truck to join the Sergeant, watching him slip some buckshot into the ammo belt compartment he had strapped to his left thigh.

"You know, it would have been much more practical if they allowed me to keep my Boltok…" she starts to nag. She missed having her pistols.

"…without ammo?" Lucius reiterates as he looks up at the annoyed Raven, knowing full well of even the slightest mention of the ammo ban was only going piss her off, but instead of rebuking him, Raven just picks up her bag and starts to hike towards the East gate, whether Lucius was ready to move or not.

"You're escort had better keep up, soldier…" Lucius could hear her sneer at Lenny as storms off. Lucius sits up after finishing putting on his ammo belt, turning his attention to Lenny.

"I hope those boys of yours can haul ass, Private…" Lucius groans as he peers over the truck to catch a glimpse of Raven continuing on.

"Randy can hold his own. I dunno about the new guy though," Lenny admitted. Lucius returns a nod before closing up the packhorse.

"You got her, Private?" Lucius asks as he tosses Lenny the keys.

"Sure thing Sarge…she's in good hands," says Lenny as he gives Lucius a wink, "…you just keep up with your other woman."

Lucius flashes a grin before he snaps his ammo belt in place and begins to hike towards the East Gate, closing in the distance between him and the Feral diplomat; she's not going to get too far in those ridiculous high-heels the Captain made her wear.


Chapter 5: Instability Edit

"East Gate, come in…this is Eleanor at checkpoint six-three, over…"

…the receiver to the radio was sounding off between sporadic waves of static. Dizzy Wallin peers out from his driver cab at the voice on his squawk box, located next to the turret on the bow side of the derrick.

Private Sven Dunrich was slumped down over his Longshot rifle, fast asleep while senior medic Grimes was taking the last watch shift for the night, sipping on some coffee he managed to brew in a makeshift coffee pot that was nothing more than a water boiler with coffee grinds in it.

Looking over his shoulder, Grimes notices Dizzy making his way to the radio console,

"Is that one of our checkpoints?" Grimes asks after letting out a brief yawn.

"Heeyah…Lenny's got dat one out on the North Freeway…"

"But I thought we didn't have any scheduled freight coming in from the North Freeway?"

"We don't…so something's gotta be up," Dizzy recollects as he climbs up towards the turret to access the receiver.

"Lenny, this is Betty at checkpoint six-four, you over?"

"Yea, I hear ya Wallin, over,"

"So is it good news or bad?"

"Well I guess dat depends on how late you were up last night…"

"Hehe, late enough to sit and watch the fireflies fuck all night. So whatcha got fer me, Lenny?"

"Sergeant Jacquin is on his way over to you now…"

"On foot?"

"Shea…he's got da Feral Consulate with him,"

"Well I'll be damned…nobody said anything about some Feral diplomat comin in…"

"Yea, it's news to me too, but I got Randy and Belenski escorting them towards yer position, so tell your sniper boy not ta shoot em."

"Yea, I'll be sure to tell Vinny, whenever he wakes up…but thanks for the heads up!"

"No problem, Wallin…Lenny out."

Grimes lets out a groan as he puts his coffee down and lightly kicks Sven's leg.

"Hey kid, get up man…"

"Aw hell, you ain't gonna wake that kid up by just tappin him…you need to give him more incentive…" a booming voice could be heard as a wide eyed Augustus Cole climbs up the ladder and onto the derrick platform.

"…here allow me," Cole insists as he picks up Grime's cup of coffee and splashes it on Sven's unsuspecting face. Within seconds, Sven squirms and grunts as he yelps from the hot coffee granules clinging to his cool skin.

"Shit…what the hell, man…"

"Heehee, wakie wakie, sunshine…"

Grimes starts to rant, "Damnit, Cole! You know how long it took me just to make that cup of coffee?"

"Well hell, Doc, you've got a case of that shit in your medbox. It's not like you couldn't make another one…" another voice enters the vicinity. Sergeant Fenix pulls himself up and onto the platform, "…and I'm willing to bet that wasn't your first cup tonight either!"

"Hehe, that would make it number three…" Dizzy laughs as he watches Cole help a disorientated Sven Dunrich to his feet, whom was still trying to wipe the damp, coffee grounds still caked to his face. Grimes could only grumble as he meanders back over to his water boiler to make himself another cup.

"Wallin, I hope you didn't drink the last bottle of water last night…" Grimes yells over his shoulder while Sven was brushing his previous cup that was still dribbling down over his armor.

"That was just plain evil, man…sneaking up on me like that," Sven gripes to Cole.

"Ah, c'mon kid! A hurricane could be blowing buildings down and you'd still be lying there sleepin. Besides, I figured you be used to it by now…" Cole chuckles, helping Sven get himself together.

Sergeant Fenix moves over to allow two more Gears to board the Derrick while he leans over to brush off the beach sand that was caked to his boots.

"Shit Fenix, why did they send y'all all the way over here for?" Grimes gripes as he peers over the rail to see more additional Gears making their way to their outpost.

"The crowd's moving this direction," Fenix replies.

"Aw shit…to this gate?" Dizzy asks.

"Yea, to this gate."

"Fuck…can we still get into contact with Sarge?" Grimes asks Dizzy.

"I don't even know if his com is set on base frequency," Dizzy replies, "…you know dem new radios are finicky."

"Wait…somebody's coming here?" asks Marcus.

"Sergeant Jacquin…and he's got the Feral Consulate with him," Dizzy answers him.

"You gotta be fucking kidding me…" Marcus grumbles as he turns over his shoulder to the rest of his makeshift squadron, "…pick up the pace, guys, c'mon!"

"Shea, I wish. I just got off the horn with Lenny. Their making their way over here as we speak."

"Shit…how long before they get here?"

"Twenty…thirty minutes tops!"




1.3 kilometers from the East Gate…

The early morning light was just now surfacing from the East horizon, making the foggy field a bit more visible for travel. Sergeant Jacquin was ahead of the pack, while Raven was teetering between Private Randy Gales and Private Keith Belenski, both whom were accompanying them to the East Gate.

The lumpy, muddy terrain was not making it easy for Raven, trying not to step into crawfish burrows while attempting to marginally stabilize her posture on some platform-heeled shoes. With each step, her heels would sink into the damp soil beneath the eelgrass, consequently having her to forcibly pull her foot out from the ground with each step. Her ankles began to ache horribly from the exertion, making the trip even more unbearable as blisters began to form along the backs of her feet from the friction of her tender skin rubbing against the vinyl strap. Shit, this sucks.

Feeling the ocean breeze meander around them, Raven takes a moment to stop and lay her bag down as she bends over, and clutches the skirt of her mid-thigh, black dress. Rolling the hinge tightly so she could tie it in a knot to keep the wind from hiking up her skirt, Raven wipes the sweat from her brow and then cringes as she kneels back down to pick up her bag. Lucius stops in his tracks and turns around for a moment to watch the Feral Consulate, struggle as she stands back up with the strap of her heavy, duffel bag leaning on her shoulder, causing her small frame to slant on one side as she feebly attempts to walk again, pulling her feet out and up over the tall grass that was brushing against her bare legs.

It was a pitiful sight if Lucius ever saw one, and I've seen some pretty pitiful sites. A late shift didn't go by where Lucius didn't see some bloke passed out on the sidewalk after a night of binging, or some hooker straddled behind a tree, taking a piss were she stood…and now I'm watching some Feral trying to walk in six inch, platform shoes in a form-fitting black dress, carrying a fifteen pound duffle bag full of electrical tools and wi-fi equipment.

Randy and Belenski stop in their tracks as they watch Raven's futile attempt to keep pace, despite her stubborn effort.

"Did you need help wit dat ma'am?" Randy couldn't help but to ask in his heavy droll accent.

Raven didn't know which was worse; having to parade around the Vectus Naval Base in humiliating attire that resembled a harlot in a semi-casual brothel, or being pitied by every male encounter she's inevitably going to come across, asking her if needed help with something she was more than capable of doing herself…but if I don't let this moron carry my shit, then I'm going to get bombarded with offers from every other douchebag on base.

Letting out a sigh, Raven stops in her tracks to pull her bag off her shoulder and takes up on Randy's offer as she holds it out for him to take,

"…if you would, please…"

He let's out a smile as he puts up his Plancer, and then takes her duffel back off her hands, placing it on his shoulder.

"Damn…" he subtly mutters in shock from the sudden weight of the bag, "…whatta ya got in here, rocks?"

Raven doesn't answer, still trying to pull her sunken feet out from the mud after standing idle in it for too long with the excess weight. She could tell by the Sergeant's demeanor that he found the whole thing amusing, watching from afar as he stood with his hands on his hips, waiting for her to catch up.

"Yea, yea, I'm working on it, ok?" she scoffs at him, feeling some ease without the excess weight of her bag holding her down. Lucius returns an unassuming expression as he wipes the sweat that was falling from his hairline to his eyes. Randy follows Raven close behind while Belenski hangs back just in case.

"Damn…is it any wonder everybody takes the road to go the East Gate, man. This hike sucks," Belenski rants as he too struggles to keep his boots from sinking into the sudden patch of marshland.

"…and who do we have to thank for that, Private?" Lucius retorts, still somewhat aggravated with the situation, knowing that they were already late to the meeting with Prescott.

It wouldn't be the first time that Lucius had to deal with civil unrest amongst civilians, but dealing with a rally of activists was another animal entirely. More often than not, if not handled with care, protests can lead to an uprising, which is the last thing the COG wanted on their hands, especially in the wake of COG and Pelruan relations, not to mention the Feral.

"Hey look…there's the gate…" Randy blurts out, pointing to what appeared to be an iron fence that ran along a levee, "…outpost six-four should be a little further down, towards the East Gate."

Lucius peers over the fog that still hung heavy over the terrain as the fence came into view.

"Ugh…about time…" Raven grumbles, picking up the pace as she gradually catches up with Lucius. Over the noise of the four trekking through swampy waters, the clatter of human voices could be heard in the nearby distance.

Lucius perks up, directing his ears to what appears to be herd of people, marching along the levee.

"You've got to be kidding me…" Lucius groans as Raven manages to catch up to him, panting from the effort of pulling her feet from the sodden ground. Randy was the next to follow as he too takes a moment to get a glimpse of inevitability.

"Aw…those damn activists relocated, fuck!" Randy groans while leaning into his com, "…checkpoint six-four, can you read, over."

The dense fog was becoming sparser as the sun rose further into the sky, clearing a view for the four to see as the East Gate came into better view.

"Checkpoint six-four, can you hear me, over?" Randy attempts to make contact as the static still rung into his receiver.

"Shit, I can't get to em, Sarge," Randy finally announces.

"Let's get over there before more people arrive," Lucius commands as he takes Raven by the hand, "…c'mon Ellie, you're gonna have to be the one to haul ass, now."

"Damnit Sergeant…hold on," Raven gripes as she pauses for a moment to quickly slip off her shoes. She ties them together by the ankle straps and throws them over her shoulder,

"Sigh, alright, let's do this!"




"NO GAROSNI…NO GAROSNI…"

…the crowd had not ceased chanting in the past ten minutes as activists cram along the entrance to the East Gate. Huddled together, they push against the iron bars that separated them from the Gears just on the other side, while Dizzy's derrick, Betty, sat snug along the fence line with the platform looking just out over the ever growing rally.

Marcus and Cole were on the railing, looking out diligently for Lucius. At six-four feet and weighing over two-hundred pounds, Lucius wouldn't be too hard to spot, but the antsy horde of civilians that were flocking the gate as the minutes went by, were making the situation even more complicated than it should have been.

Sven stood on the lower deck as he peers out through his sniper scope, looking for Sergeant Jacquin over the rabble. As he slowly scans the crowd, he comes across the familiar lighting of an armored chest plate.

"Sergeant Fenix! I found them!" Sven yells out, "…ten o'clock, to the rear."

Marcus, Cole, Dizzy, and Grimes hang over the railing, peering through the heavy rays of the morning sunlight, scanning for anyone in Gear armor.

"Oh shit, over there," Cole calls out as he points to his left.

"Shit, I see em," Marcus confirms as he pulls up a pair of Dizzy's spare binoculars, "…and he's got two other Gears with him…and…where's Ells?"

"What…who?"

"Never mind, I see the Feral Consulate, shit! They're not going get past this crowd easily, if at all."

"I better get another medkit, just in case," says Grimes as he hopes off the top platform to gather his equipment.




Between the cramping of bodies and the already festering humidity, the crowding was becoming tedious. Raven could already feel the world enclosing around her, trying to keep her head above the masses just so she could breathe. Barefoot and without any weapons, Raven begins to feel anxious, gripping Lucius' hand tightly, frantic that he was her only means of keeping her sanity amongst an angry, chanting mob of people.

The gate was so close, and yet so far. Carefully meandering between the tight spaces of an already anxious crowd, Lucius could sense the hostility escalating as the people started pushing amongst each other, feeding on intensity as it began to spread like a wildfire.

Looking out from the derrick platform, leaning from the railing Cole could see Sergeant Jacquin keeping his ground amongst the antsy crowd, noticing the demeanor of the people was getting even more irate as the morning sun started to peek over the horizon.

"Hey Marcus! That crowd is getting' pretty ugly man," Cole voices his concern before Marcus whips his head around to see the people left of Lucius' position growing more rowdy.

"Aw shit," Marcus mutters as he quickly dislodges from the steps of the derrick.

"Vinny…you better get up on the platform, man…" Cole yells.

"On it," Sven responds, jumping up to the turret platform with Longshot in hand.

"Doc! It's going to get ugly here real quick!" Marcus blares out as he races over to the gate entrance.

"Working on it, Sergeant," Grimes bellows out before placing his partially drunken coffee to the side and straps on another medic pack. Grimes wasn't too far behind as he too dislodges from the derrick and makes his way over to the gate. Marcus could already feel the tension brushing against the iron bars, the only thing that separated him from the restless, chanting crowd.

"Step away from the gate…" Marcus attempts to reason, before even thinking of using force against a heated mob of civilians. Although the first group of people that stood directly against the bars was trying to comply, their attempt to make room was futile against the antsy crowd behind them.

Making his way up to the gate, Grimes flashed his medic badge as he yells out through the disarray,

"MEDIC! Please make way…"

Despite the lack of wiggle room, the people in the front manage to give Marcus and Grimes enough space to at least open the gate a few feet, allowing them to step out one at a time.

Between the vigor of the mob and the tight, cramped spaces, Lucius was locked in, holding Raven close to keep her head above the huddled bodies. Holding his own footing against the rowdy cluster nearby, Lucius widened his stance as he peers over ahead, watching Marcus join the crowd with Grimes not too far behind.

"Make way, please…" Marcus attempts to clear something of a path before yelling out to Lucius, "…Sergeant…get her over here!"

"Affirmative…" Lucius responds, picking up the pace as he attempts to meander through the tight crowd.

Sven watches in anticipation as he sees a bewildered Raven, clung tightly to Lucius' torso. For the first time in a long time, Raven was practically out of her element. She didn't like being around large groups of people, much less an angry mob, and she certainly didn't like being confined.

"Stay close Ellie…we'll get through this," she could barely hear Lucius mumble over the noise of the rabble. Trying to ignore her already aching feet, Raven takes one step at a time, bracing herself against Lucius, whom was attempting the same. Belenski was close behind while Randy lingered back.

"Stay with em' Private…" Randy orders.

"Yessir…" Belenski responds, keeping his distance between himself and the Sergeant tight, not giving anyone a chance to slither between them.

With the gate just a few meters in reach, the trek was sluggish at best, feeling the heat coming on as the morning sun was already blaring over the landscape. As the heat rose, the people began to get even more irate, feeding on the element of the moment. Everyone was tired, hot, hungry, and fatigued; a bad combination for COG personnel trying to relocate a diplomat through an anxious rabble.

Peering over the masses, Sven suddenly spots a cluster of people shifting suddenly to a disturbance amongst the crowd, moving frantically through the rigid bodies, causing an commotion. Looking through his scope, he sees two men moving rather quickly through an already annoyed crowd, stirring additional confusion amongst the people who were apparently unaware of what was transpiring.

"Sergeant…" Sven yells into his com.

"What is it, Private?" Marcus yells into his.

"Two men, one o' clock…closing in fast!"

Whipping his focus from Lucius to the commotion ahead, Marcus could barely see the disturbance moving quickly through the crowd.

"Goddamnit…" Marcus blurts out, "…I don't need this shit right now!"

A feeling of helplessness swept Marcus as he pushes against the tight-nit crowd trying to reach for Lucius, but it was futile.

"…Lucius! Incoming!" Marcus bellows out as loud as he can possibly muster.

Lucius stops in his tracks as he whips his head around to see two men approaching them, yelling out profanities as they were meandering rather quickly. Both men were covered in heavy attire form head to toe, which was already blatantly suspicious to the veteran Gear. It didn't take long before Lucius put two together as he blurts out to Randy,

"Get back!"

The others from the top of the derrick watch frantically, feeling that all too familiar feeling in the gut of their stomachs as the rabble sits short on the brink of a full blown riot. Peering through his scope, Sven watches carefully at the two men before he notices one of them carrying something in his hand. A detonator…shit!

"Shit, those bastards are rigged, Sergeant!" Sven yells in his com.

Although shooting at an irate crowd of people was not in anyone's better interest, Marcus wasn't going to take the chance with a diplomat on the scene.

"Fuck…take the shot, Vin! I repeat…take the shot!"

In just a split second, a shot echoes into the vicinity, causing an abrupt stir amongst the people. Belenski keeps his stance while others around him drop down, exposing one of the advancing men. Lucius acts quickly.

"GET DOWN, PRIVATE!"

With Raven in his brace, he yanks the both of them down to the ground, a split second before a sudden ear-shattering crack breaks through the fray. Seconds seemed like minutes as the world goes up in smoke, blood, and chaos. It took a few moments for the crowd to register what had just happened, but the immediate screams that followed were blatantly obvious as the mob quickly disperse around the fray.

After watching the horror unfold before them, Marcus and Grimes brace against the gate seconds before the mob breaks out into a panic. People attempt to flee the scene as fast as the stammering crowd would allow them, shoving against the back end of the rabble, while others whom were not as fortunate, collapse under the stampede of a terrified horde. Confusion and fear spread quickly as Cole watches helplessly, trying to call out to the Sergeant in vain over the endless screams of a terrified people.

"SERGEANT, FERAL…fuck!"

Cole quickly grabs the railing to step over the bars and looks down to find a sparse area to leap onto.

"VINNY…cover me, man!" Cole yells out before he leaps off the platform. Sven moves up with rifle in hand as he quickly slaps another round into the chamber. He watches Cole hit the ground into a somersault to ease the landing from a ten foot drop.

"YOU"RE CLEAR," Sven yells out as Cole returns a nod.

The area of the detonation was quickly evacuated amongst the crowd, leaving an area strewn in blood and body parts. Pushing against what remained of the dwindling crowd, Marcus calls out through the rabble,

"COLE…CAN YOU SEE SERGEANT JACQUIN?"

Cole bumps against a fleeing crowd, trying to make out the scene ahead.

"I SEE HIM, MARCUS…damn…"

Bodies were strewn within a ten-foot radius, some intact while others in shambles or pieces as the wounded lay in waiting, completely dazed from the blast. With the spaces between them beginning to dissipate, Marcus and Grimes immediately run towards the vicinity, while the other Gears make their way to the gate.

"Can you hear me? Anyone?" Grimes yells out over the masses of people that were laying on the ground; some barely alive, while others lay still. Blood was everywhere, layered among an array of scattered parts that lie in the wake of the aftermath of what may have appeared to have been a botched suicide bombing.

Slowly lifting his head from the dirt and blood smeared ground, Lucius peers with blurry eyes, shaking. The ringing in his ears filtered out what remained of the screaming. The iron stench coming from the blood that was caked on his face, mixed with the sudden rush of adrenaline pumping hard into his body nearly made him nauseous, if it weren't for the faint voices of the Gears nearby.

As the picture starts to come into focus, Lucius begins to come to his senses as he calls out,

"Ellie…" he calmly mutters, trying to feel his way around his surroundings, "…Madam Consulate, you there?"

He carefully pulls an arm out from under him as he blindly feels around, trying to find something of Raven's; either her arm or leg, to the soft polyester material that made up her black dress.

"…Raven…are you there? Randy?"

Reaching out, he feels something supple, like a strap to a holster pack. Extending his hand over the unknown object get a better confirmation, Lucius' heart sinks fast into his stomach, reevaluating his hypothesis before coming to realize that he had just found one of Raven's platform-heeled shoes…oh God…

As his senses start to heighten, a moan could be suddenly heard as he feels something tightening around the bare skin of his exposed bicep, almost to the point of pinching. Lucius didn't realize it, but Raven had her arms wrapped around his left arm, clinging to him like lint to velcro.

He still couldn't make out anything under the heavy haze. One by one, his senses was coming back to him as if his brain was attempting to re-boot after a sudden power outage. He blinks his eyes a few times before the picture becomes more clearer, and the blurriness fades. Turning his gaze to his left, he sees a wide-eyed, blood drenched Raven, twitching vigorously, succumbing to the sudden rush of adrenaline pumping fast in her body.

"You…alright?" Lucius asks firmly, gently wiping the blood off her face with his other hand. Raven returns a nod, still shaking and clinging to Lucius' arm. He takes her word for it, judging by the intensity in her tight grip.

Lucius carefully pulls himself up as got onto his knees, shaking his head to stop the ringing still blaring in his ears. To his right, he sees a dazed Garrett Belenski, still lying on his side while slowly unraveling from the fetal position. He was looking up into the sky, his face layered in grime and blood.

"Private Belenski...you ok?" Lucius was able to muster between coughs.

Turning his head slightly while still lying on his back, Belenski casually lifts his hand to gesture a wave as Lucius returns a nod. Carefully looking up and peering into a bright, smoky haze, Lucius feels someone tugging on his chest plate,

"Sergeant…Sergeant Jacquin…Luc, are you alright?" a barely audible voice could be heard over the ringing still echoing in his head.

"Marcus?" Lucius mumbles as he squints to a dark silhouette standing above him.

"At least he's still in one piece…" another voice could be heard in the muffled clatter.

"Grimes…check the other two! Dane, Sven, get your asses out here!"

Lucius turns his gaze back to Raven, whom was still clinging to his bicep.

"Can you get up?" Lucius mutters as he reaches for her hand. Wrapping her fingers around his hand, she carefully sits up. The world was still spinning as she starts to lean.

"Careful Ells," another voice could barely be heard.

"Damn…Feral baby, you alright?"

I know that voice…Raven attempts to come into picture as her eyes barely comes into focus.

"Gus?" Raven manages to whimper out as her eyes adjust to the morning haze. Silhouettes clutter around her view as the voices become more audible and clearer.

"…Lucius…" Raven calls out again before she feels someone pull her close against their armored chest.

"I'm here, Eloise…are you sure you're alright?"

"I…yes. Just…dizzy…and I can't…see shit…"

"You probably still have blood in your eyes," Lucius gently responds.

"B…blood?" Raven mutters in between coughing.

"Feral, can you hear me baby?"

"Gus…I can hear you , I just…can't see you," Raven responds while still shaking vigorously.

"Cole, get these guys out of here," Marcus yells out from a distance.

"You got it, boss man!"

Cole carefully helps Lucius back onto his feet, trying to stabilize the heavy Sergeant as Lucius sways slightly before coming back to balance. He leans over, trying to recollect his equilibrium as well as his stomach, coughing up the metallic taste that still festered heavily in his mouth from the discharge.

"You got it Sarge?" Cole asks, still hanging onto Lucius' arm. Lucius manages to spit up, coughing in between heaves, and then stands back up to clear his chest.

"Yea…you better…help the Consulate…" he responds to Cole.

"C'mon Feral baby…I don't want to have to be the one to explain to Hoffman why you got blood all over ya…" says Cole as he kneels down and scoops up a bewildered Raven, placing one arm around her waist and another under her knees. Carefully lifting her up effortlessly from the ground, Raven quickly wraps her arms around Cole's massive neck. She lets out a slight groan as she suddenly fidgets,

"Cole…Gus, you better…put me down…" she blurts out in between coughing.

"Ah, damnit," Cole responds as he gently puts her on her feet, holding her up by her waist.

Raven leans over and starts to cough violently. Cole could feel her starting to convulse as she gags on the dry heaves. Lucius slowly turns around to the commotion and sees a bewildered Raven, leaning over and on the brink of vomiting. Just then, Raven proceeds to throw up the breakfast she ate earlier that morning. Lucius staggers over to Cole whom was trying to turn his head away so he wouldn't watch.

"I got it Private…you may want to step back…" Lucius offers.

"Ugh…yea, I'll do that. Thanks Sarge," Cole lets Lucius take his place to avoid getting weak in the stomach himself.

After emptying the contents in her stomach, Raven takes a moment to clear her mouth and throat of the bile and then slowly stands back up, using Lucius to stabilize her equilibrium.

Looking around at the aftermath, Lucius finally comes to a realization.

"Wait…where's Randy?"

Cole looks up at Lucius while helping Randy collect himself, and then turns to Grimes, whom was still looking around for survivors,

"Doc…you see Randy?"

"Working on it, Private…there's a lot of bodies amongst the live ones…" Grimes responds, searching diligently amongst the array of people lying on the ground.

Marcus could be heard in the distance, yelling into his com over the noise of the moaning and flustered civilians nearby.

"Mathieson, contact Hoffman…I don't give a shit if he's at the meeting with Prescott and the Pelruan Commander, we have a situation at the East Gate…we had a suicide bomber detonate himself in a crowd of civilians…yea there's fucking casualties! I've got them splattered all over the goddamn ground, not to mention one of our own! We need a medical evac, now!"



Chapter 6: Insurrection Edit

"Give a man reason to maintain order, you become a slave to the fundamentals of martial law, but when you give a man reason to fear your resolve, he becomes a slave to incentive."

Reverend Mother Paroux

The harbor was quiet all morning. Ships would sway slightly to the motions of the waters while the seagulls began their morning rounds, searching for schools of fish washed up between the ships at the dock.

Baird was already up as usual, updating the turret on the Sovereign, a project he picked up just so he would have an excuse to avoid guard duty. After spending the latter two hours lying on the gun deck floor making one last sweep of the wiring he replaced a week earlier, he finally stepped out onto the deck to get a fresh breath of sea air. Although he enjoyed tinkering with the components after finally getting the mechanism to work more proficiently, the festering stale air in the gun deck would aggravate his sinuses. Promising himself that he would at least just give the console a quick rundown, he was somewhat melancholy that he was going to have to move onto the next project that involved reworking internet connections to a COG station in Retreat.

Standing out, overlooking the swaying waters as fish leapt into the air, Baird manages to get something of a breakfast down in him, which consisted of stale, powder donuts and lightly fermented juice from the mess hall in the deck below. The sun was already over the horizon as sweat began to bead down his grimy forehead…shit, I really do need to take a shower today before I have to wait for the next rotation!

The Gears were assigned two days out of the week to take showers at the barracks to keep water and heating usage in moderation. But on a day as hot as is it today, shit, I don't care if I dip myself in the ice trough at the bar. The heat index alone was tedious, and if it weren't for the swift sea breeze from a nearby air front, the temperature would have been unbearably hot by noon.

Baird grudgingly stuffed his face with the last of his donuts, only to water it down with his bitter tasting orange juice before he saw a group of Gears moving frantically up and down the dock; shit, what's going on now? It wasn't long before Captain Quentin Michealson walks up onto the deck from the bridge. Just as the Captain walks onto deck, Baird quickly notices that Quentin had shaved off his bird's nest of a beard, something that Baird kinda got used to seeing on the sea veteran.

Almost every single sailor from the torpedo bay to the cook, seldom took time to stay clean-shaven and made little effort to hide it. Although it was somewhat understandable, especially since their dwindling supply of shaving cream was nearly, if not completely exhausted, Baird would think they would have more incentive to stay trimmed, especially since there was an outbreak of hair lice during the long grueling trek from Port Farrall to Vectus Island. Pfft, not that a bath would make these scruffy navy guys any less weird!

"Sergeant Damon Baird?" Quentin calls out.

"Corporal Captain…" Baird soon corrects him, reverting his scowling gaze to the dock while still chewing on the stale donut. Michealson let out a slight chuckle as he joins the sour Damon Baird, whom was leaning on the railing peering out towards the loading dock nearby as COG personnel were moving rather quickly for a typical morning routine.

"I just got word from Command…" Quintin began while Baird's facial expression went glum; fuck, please don't tell me the water pressure is so miserably low, we can't even flush the toilets now…

"…you need to meet the Colonel at the makeshift infirmary just outside the barracks, ASAP."

"Wait…infirmary? Since when did they decide to put up a medical tent out near the barracks?" Baird had to ask.

"Didn't you hear about the civvies gathering just outside of the base?"

"Yea, what about it? Did they drop dead from heat exhaustion?" Baird sneers, knowing that the rallies was nothing more than a handful of left-wing, fanatics trying to stir up an insurrection because they didn't like the idea of sharing the bathrooms with the locals and Stranded; fuck em, they can suffer just like the rest of us who have to scrub our asses in the mildew infested, communal showers.

"I'm not talking about the rallies earlier this morning, I'm talking about some dumbass who decided to blow himself up near the East Gate, right in the middle of a crowd of people, including a few Gears."

"Say what? East Gate?" Baird beams in shock…isn't that where Cole is stationed?

"There were two guys who decided to strap explosives on their waists and light themselves up…killed at least five people, including one of our own…and they nearly took out a diplomat."

"Well that's fucking terrific…and lemme take a guess, we're going to get blamed for it…"

"Dunno…all I know is that Colonel Hoffman specifically requested for you to meet him at the infirmary."

Fuck, why me? Shit, I hope Cole is alright…Baird laments to himself.

Baird let out a long sigh, "Did he say why?"

"Orders is orders, Corporal…you know that," the Captain reminds him.

"The reason I'm asking is so just in case I need to bring any special equipment…he may need me to fix a CAT scan, or hook up a portable AC…or hell, knowing my luck, maybe to fix a leaky pipe to the septic tank…"

"No Corporal…it's more than that. But if it would make you feel better, I'll go on to quote that you are to stop what you're presently doing, pack your shit, and to report to the Colonel for a debriefing."

Quentin's eyes blaze under the haze of the morning sunlight as Baird could sense that Michealson wasn't bullshitting him; this has to be serious.

"Alright, alright…tell him I'm on my way."

"Good lad…" Quentin remarks as he flashes a grin.

Baird stood up from the railing as he gathers what was left of his breakfast and tool belt, and starts to make his way towards the ramp, feeling that all too familiar sense of condescension from the Captain as he exits the Sovereign…

…jerkoff.



"Agh, shit…" Lucius yelps from the sting of alcohol, dabbed on a gash on the back of his arm.

He sat straddled on a bench with his shirt partially off, revealing an array of scratches littered all around the back of his arms, neck, and any other place that wasn't covered by his armor. The nurse did what she could to reasonably keep the pain factor to a minimum, but with as many abrasions that Lucius had accumulated, she gave up after soiling the fifth cotton swab.

"Ack, yer one of da lucky one's, Gear…" the volunteer nurse mentions while dabbing along another cut just below the gash she cleaned earlier. Judging by her demeanor, accent, and a series of scarification that ran down her exposed arm, just underneath the sleeve of her COG issued scrubs, Lucius could tell she was one of the Feral volunteers.

"Imagine that…" Lucius manages to mutter before letting out hiss from another sharp sting coming from the damp cotton swab meeting his open flesh.

Although her overall attire was similar to that of the rest of the staff in the ward, she still had those characteristics that automatically singled her out from the others as Feral. The tips of her cropped blonde locks of hair was colored in a blue dye, complementing her baby blue eyes and a blue ornate tattoo on her forehead.

Lucius had seen these markings before on the "birthers" at the reservation. They were the breeders that assisted the midwives in tending to those whom were expecting. They were literally the nurses of the clan, whom also lent their own bosoms for the infants. It was said that all the infants fed on the breast of every "birther" in the clan, so that every child would inherit an array of natural immunities to diseases, allergies, and other special proteins the Feral deemed necessary for infant development. Come to think of it, Lucius had never seen a Feral get sick, other than morning sickness that usually came in the early stages of pregnancy.

"Bare wit me, Sergeant…it could have been worse," she tries to sooth him any way she could, but judging by the gritting of his teeth while his jaw would strain with each contact between the alcohol and his wounds, she felt her attempt was just that…futile. Nevertheless, Lucius manages to exchange a nod before she returns a partial smile, and resumes cleaning.

"Damn baby…make it easy on yoself and just dip him in da tub…" Cole comments as he enters the tent from the outside. Lucius looks up at Cole, exchanging a sarcastic gaze before cringing at the stinging sensation stabbing him on the back of his arm.

"Sigh, I'm gonna have ta wash dat arm with an iodine solution before I stitch ya up, Sergeant. Dere's too much a risk of infection in dis humid environment," the nurse informs Lucius as that all familiar feeling sinks into his gut. Regardless how tough a man can be, getting sloshed with an iodine wash, especially with open wounds, was about as fun as a dentist pulling teeth; and just as excruciating.

Getting up from the bench, the nurse moves the waist basket over while turning to the partially topless Sergeant,

"I'll be back wit a bucket and wash cloth…"

Groaning at the thought of the inevitable amount of pain he was going to have to endure, Lucius just moans,

"Sure."

"Hehe, don't worry baby…I'll be sure he don't go anywhere," Cole playfully gleans.

"Seriously who's side are you on anyway?" Lucius grumbles before carefully taking the rest of his undershirt off.

Feeling a brisk breeze wisp around vicinity, Lucius let's out a sigh as he rotates his head to get a feel of the swift air brush along the back of his sweaty neck. He welcomes the sensation of a faint wind brushing along his shoulder length hair as he looks up to the ceiling, watching the breeze sway against the tent polls.

The makeshift infirmary was nothing more than a large tent filled with portable heart monitors, I.V. carts, fold up cots, and curtain stands used as privacy walls to separate the "patients." The critically wounded were kept on one side of the tent while those with minor injuries, including Lucius, sat on the other. Despite keeping the wounded segregated, their moans, and sometimes the screams, were still audible throughout the vicinity. Everyone, whom still had the ability to hear, cringed at the gurgling wails coming from the trauma ward just a few meters away. The hospital staff was constantly on the move, tending from one patient to the next while Gears were still moving in and out, relocating wounded from the incident earlier that morning. It wasn't even nine o'clock in the morning and it already seemed like a long day.

"So how's it hangin' Boss man?" Cole gleefully asks, taking a seat on a nearby folded out cot. Lucius lifts a brow to the charismatic Private before he responds with dry sarcasm.

"Half-mast and to the right," Lucius grumbles. Although it wasn't like Lucius to be so playfully satirical, his comment wasn't all that too far from the truth.

Cole couldn't help but to chuckle at the gloomy Sergeant, who looked like something the cat dragged in.

"…but I do owe you one Private…Vinny and Fenix too," Lucius adds with sincerity.

"Nah…you don't owe anybody anytin' Sarge. You've kept us all going when the going got tough more times than any of us kept count…" Cole adds before the nurse came back with a bucket and washcloth.

"Alright Sergeant…" she announces as she rinses the washcloth into the pail. Shaking it a few times, she gently leans over and lightly places the damp cloth onto Lucius' bare back.

At first, Lucius hisses just as soon as the wash makes contact, scorching his skin. It was like a thousand needle pricks, embedding into his back all at once. As the warmth of the damp cloth absorb into his skin, Lucius lets out a calming sigh, coming to grips with the stinging as his shoulders began to lax. Feeling the warm moistened cloth roll along his shoulder blades, he lets out a moan as the stinging subsided, feeling only the soothing heat coming from the cloth as if he was standing directly under a warm shower. It was a sensation he didn't want to take for granted so he leans his head back to savor it while he can.

Water dribbled down his shoulders and over his exposed pectorals as the nurse washes along his trapezius. Streams of water slithered over his rigid back, running down past the seam of his pants, until he could feel water seep down to his buttocks. Although Lucius was a stickler about wearing clean underwear, for now he just didn't care.

Moving his gaze over to his blood smeared armor that was laid out next to the bench, he suddenly began to ponder.

"How are the, *ouch…" Lucius cringes, "…the others, how are they doing?"

"Well, Belenksi's doing fine…considering…" Cole responds as he looks around Lucius' personal quarantined space, "…can't say the same about Randy though."

"Shit…" Lucius lowly grumbles as his gaze droops to the dirt floor.

"Hey man, you did what ya could, ya know? You saved one of our guys, plus Feral! That's gotta say somethin!"

"Yea, speaking of which, how is Raven?"

"Just a few scratches here and there, a nasty scab on her elbow, but nothing deep…she's got some funky rash on her leg, but we figured it be poison ivy from when y'all walked out along the marsh."

"Yea, and I'll probably never hear the end of that."

"Eh, Feral's had worse…I remember Feral hiking for two days after getting a piece of shrapnel stuck in her ass; hell, Damon had to stitch her up twice cause she kept poppin' the seams," Cole reminisces, pondering back during their weeklong excursion out in Glacier Valley near Port Farrall, "…damn, those were some interesting times, man."

"Pfft, I bet…*ouch, damnit…" Lucius couldn't help but to yelp as he turns his head over his shoulder, only to see the nurse finally patting some last touches on the back of his elbow.

"Wait here Sergeant. I'll need ta stitch one of yer cuts, before the doctor can let ya go," she announces before leaving to get more supplies from the med station nearby.

"Take your time…no rush…" Lucius blurts out before mumbling quietly to himself, "…son of a bitch…and I'm willing to bet old hag Hayward is going to put me on med leave for two days."

"Ah, she ain't so bad…"

"You don't sweet talk the good doctor Cole. Believe me, the Captain's already tried…"

"Hehe, the one piece of tail he has yet ta bang…"

"Oh, I didn't say that…from what I gathered during our conferences, apparently old ladies need lovin' too…"

"Aw man…how in hell does he do that?"

"Do what?"

"Get a piece of ass any which way and how?"

"He hasn't slipped into Ellie's…"

"Yet…"

"Nah, she's already told him to eat shit and die…twice in less than twelve hours. I don't see that rendezvous lifting off the ground."

"Yea, I suppose you're right. I gave up after two days; and Damon kinda blew that ship out of da water too."

"Yep. Leave it to Corporal Baird to make any situation morbidly discouraging."

Just then, the sound of boots walking heavily could be heard before Colonel Hoffman enters Lucius' semi-private space between the curtain dividers. Coming to an abrupt halt as Hoffman gets a morbid glimpse of Lucius' condition, the exasperated Colonel lets out a heavy sigh before removing his cap from his sweating, bald head.

"Normally I would ask how you're doing Sergeant, but I believe this view speaks for itself…" the Colonel observes as Cole gets up to salute the man, "…at ease son; I'm not here to bust anybodies balls."

"Well that's a relief sir," Lucius mutters, cringing from the needle prick sensation that ran along his bare arm.

"…but I need to know what in the hell happened," Hoffman elaborates as he pulls up a stool that was sitting next to the trash can, and then squats to take a seat.

"Trying to get the Consulate to the meeting with you and Prescott…"

"Yea, I figured as much Sergeant…and then I hear something about civvies rallying at every entrance on base, and then some asshole with explosives strapped on his persons, having the balls to blow themselves up right in the middle of a crowd of people, putting another kink in our present attempt to ally ourselves with the Gorasni…needless to say, I'm going to be up to my dick in casualty reports and angry calls from the local Council of Representatives!"

Lucius could only lean his head back, feeling the diplomatic noose tightening, as impending repercussions were inevitable at this point. And if he can feel it, surely Hoffman was feeling ten times as worse…God, this is going to be a long couple of weeks.

"Sigh…if it will satisfy diplomacy, I can relinquish my rank…"

"I'm not here to strip your rank, Luc…I'll be damned if I know of anyone who could have handled that any better than how you went with it, Sergeant. Considering the circumstances, if Prescott gets into a tissy because the Council is bitching about the safety protocol of their civilians, I'll be sure to remind him about who's been cleaning the fucking mess because a bunch of loose canons wanting to impede COG operations, stick their finger up COG's ass, and decide to take it out on COG personnel by blowing themselves up! Fuck em…and the same goes for Fenix and Grimes! I'm not going to stand by and have some pussy-whipped, politician, browbeat their way over my men who did the next best thing by taking out one of those crazed dipshits, possibly saving more lives while the Council has the gall to dump their shit in COG's lap and expect us to sort it all out!"

Amen to that, Cole thought to himself, finally having someone standing up for them despite the backlash they were going to be succumbed to in the next few days, maybe even weeks before the waters clear up again, if they ever do.

Within that same moment, Baird enters the vicinity, panting as if he ran his way from the ship dock to the infirmary. Meandering around equipment and empty cots, Baird slows down before dropping his equipment bag on the floor, releasing his labored shoulder from the weight.

"Alright…" he pants, trying to catch his breath before continuing, "…so what the hell did I miss?"

Hoffman stands up from the stool to turn around and redirect his attention to the cranky, recently demoted Corporal,

"Actually Corporal...you're right on time."


Chapter 7: When It Rains, It Pours Edit

Despite a cowardly attempt to stall negotiations, we will overcome such radicalism for a better way of life for all of humanity. We will persevere and we will succeed, where our forefather's have erred.

Entry from Chairman Prescott's speech to the nations of Vectus


Ignorance spreads lies,

How much will money buy,

Well I'll take my time,

As I drift and die.

~Puddle of Mudd~ [3]


The next day, Vectus Naval Base…

It wasn't long before word got out as alarm spread amongst the civilians, COG, and Stranded alike. It was as if the world just decided to sit still for a day, watching and waiting to see what was going to happen next. Many townsfolk shut their businesses early, just to listen to Prescott address what was left of the Serean nations, listening to his words of ongoing mediation and eventual amnesty for civilians and Stranded, especially after the recent events of some radical revolutionists attempting to stall diplomacy. As lines divide between insurrection and pacifism, skepticism was still well into bloom. The eyes of Vectus glare with intent at the face of the COG, the unwavering confidence of Chairman Prescott; a face that could save a race, or instill revolutionary ideas. Either way, the threads woven into a tapestry of woe became the beating heart of all that reside on Vectus…or so everyone wants to believe.

It was an awkward morning for Raven as she sat in a small coffee shop, with her gaze fixed on the TV while her coffee sat undisturbed on the table, getting cold. The images of Prescott and his lecture on diplomacy was just another pastime for Raven, knowing full well the schemes of men, especially of those in power. It never occurred to her until now, how much influence does Prescott truly have now? Pfft, what the hell does it matter? One way or another, my part in this charade will soon be over, and then I'll be sent to the matchmaker for breeding placement. Goddamn Feral diplomacy at it's best!

Her gaze drooped down to the table, feeling the same maternity noose she's known since her fourteenth birthday, tightening all over again. Overall, she felt like she was in a void, between the pain meds and a cup of a concoction of mocha with caffeine that she already pumped into her system before the waiter came around to give her a refill. She hadn't sipped from her cup since. Something about Prescott's speech just left her with a bad taste in her mouth.

She grudgingly spent the night at the hospital, having to eat the usual bland food that's notorious for any hospital, but at least she got a room to herself so she could get a decent nights sleep…I definitely needed that. But the hours that have followed another, near death experience, had put her in an obscure trance. For the first time in a long time, she felt vulnerable and helpless, and she hated that.

So she sat in the base coffee shop, watching Chairman Prescott make his usual morning announcements to the public through the soapbox, hoping to take her mind off of things, but whether it was working or not was debatable. It was a new, sunny day, and so far no one has yet to ruin it by blowing up a another trawler, or burn down another storage warehouse…or worse. But as the inevitable minutes countdown, she knew it was only going to be a matter of time before she was going to be called to a meeting with old man Hoffman.

Within the sounds coming from the TV and the espresso machine, a sudden noise of the door opening could be heard among the clatter that was typical for a coffee bar. Raven slowly looked over to the door to find the glum demeanor of someone she would barely recognize if he was the same man nineteen years prior. Casually moving past the door, the Gear in partial uniform entered the shop, feeling the scent of coffee grounds hit his nostrils as the noise coming from the TV set that was mounted on the wall temporarily drew his attention, before he reverted his attention back to a fatigued Raven McNight, sitting drearily at her table. Making his way over to her table, he could hear her let out a long sigh as she redirected her gaze back to her untouched cup of coffee.

"Keep frowning Sergeant, and I might be halfway tempted to slap you in the back to see if you'll stay that way," Raven dryly mused at the expressionless Marcus Fenix, "…and I suppose Colonel Hoffman sent you to find me…"

Marcus let out a halfhearted chuckle as a smile could be slightly seen from the corner of his normally frowning mouth. Under the window lighting coming from the early morning sun, Raven could see the mature contours of his face, compared to the smooth youthful complexion she remembered the last time she saw him, so many years ago. God he's changed, she thought to herself, so pale in comparison to what he used to be, which was an introverted, skinny kid with pale glassy eyes. What a difference nineteen years can be, but then again I've probably changed quite a bit too.

She was no longer that dolled up little girl with the pigtails, wearing a velveteen dress and glossy dress shoes. Marcus could remember the McNight's little Eloise, with her long locks of ebony hair pulled back in a pony tail, dressed in her school uniform, made up of a navy blue skirt and a white dress shirt. She was a cute kid, but the kid he remembered was now a vindictive Feral, wild and untamed. She too was a contrast compared to her schoolgirl days, now sitting in a coffee shop, riddled with scratches and doped on pain meds. Her once long ebony hair now cropped along her face while her once puffy cheeks is now soft and slender. Her once preteen frame has been replaced with this womanly body, with round bosoms and a tapered, skinny waist to accent her hips and legs. Damn, that dress really brings it out. Compliments of Captain Miller I suppose…that sly bastard.

"Well I guess there's no hiding the fact that you're wanted for debriefing…although I probably wouldn't rush it," Marcus acknowledged her in that low, course voice that was distinctively his. It would seem that he too was not a morning person either. He pulls out a chair and slowly sits in it before straddling his legs out to relax his tired feet. Although he wore a comfortable T-shirt instead of the usual fatigues, he still looked as if he was sweating profusely, with a wet stain that was visible on his bandana that sat snug over his matted black hair.

Leaning her head on her hand that was propped on the table by her elbow, Raven's tired gaze met with his.

"So I take it that I'm to report to his office?"

"Actually, Hoffman wants you to meet him in the command center."

"The command center?" Raven raised a brow in suspicion.

"Don't give me that look," Marcus casually scoffs at Raven's usual rhetorical demeanor, "…I'm just passing the message along. You wanna know what he wants, you're gonna have to go to find out for yourself."

"So I'm supposed to believe that he didn't tell you why?"

"You believe what you choose to believe…regardless what I say is going to change that," Marcus acknowledged, knowing that Raven was quite the pessimist, seldom taking anyone's word for anything, but that's just Eloise being Eloise.

"…but for the record, he did mention something about the latest diagnostic report concerning communication between the base and Retreat. Beyond that, he didn't say much," he added.

Raven let out a sigh, turning her gaze to the cup still sitting idle on the table; shit it's probably cold now. As the rising sun is warming the awkward space between the two, Marcus leaned back in his chair and then gently removes his bandana that was tied around his head to let his damp hair air out. Raven could tell he was long overdue for a haircut, but then again, everyone was, due to the lack of barbers to meet the demand. Even Captain Miller was starting to get pretty shaggy since she last saw him the other day, not to mention Lucius, who would have already been out of regulation if it weren't for the rubber band.

Raven sat up to gather her belongings in her tape-reinforced duffel bag and places it on the table. Feeling Marcus' gaze upon her, she sits up for a moment searching for just the right words to say something she'd been meaning to say since the day before.

"Look…before I go and spill whatever excuse I can pull out of my ass to Hoffman so I can avoid being permanently assigned to an on-base technician, I just…wanted to say, thank you, for yesterday…" Raven fumbled with the words, trying not to sound too cheesy; damnit, I was never any good at this, "…I just wanted to let you know, since I neglected to say it yesterday."

"You don't need to thank me Ellie…"

"Yea, I do…look Marcus, I don't think I ever gave you any credit for anything…like standing up to your Dad and finally making decisions for yourself instead of having him making them for you…or going back out into Glacier Valley to look for that…sadistic asshole, Morose, and bringing him to the Block."

Marcus didn't respond. He only kept his gaze at Raven whom was peering down to the floor, knowing that she felt pretty vulnerable right now, trying her damnest not to cry. Ever since their exodus from Farrall, she never talked about her captor, or the events of Glacier Valley. Come to think of it, she has never mentioned anything about that botched mission…probably because Cole has been doing most of the talking.

But then gain, Marcus didn't like talking about his missions either. He didn't want to reminisce the past, otherwise he would spend majority of his free time mourning. God, I can only imagine how Dom must feel…

"Ya know…I always wondered what that pretty blonde Lieutenant saw in you…but I guess I can see it now,"

Before giving Marcus a chance to even remotely respond, Raven gathered her things, putting them back into her duffel bag. Cupping her head with her hands as she pulled back her wild strands of hair from her face, Raven let out a grumbling sigh before finally standing up from her chair.

"I guess I better go bite the bullet and see what old man Hoffman wants now," Raven groaned before she meanders around her chair with the strap of her duffel bag hanging on her shoulder, "…I'll see you around, Fenix."

"Likewise…" Marcus could only respond as Raven walked past him and over to the coffee shop door. Still sitting in the chair, feeling the warmth coming form the rising morning sun, Marcus peered out through the window, watching COG personnel come and go as another typical day draws nigh.

Another blissful, eventful day, Marcus ponders to himself while the audio of the TV with Prescott still blabbering about on-going mediations, still resonated into his subconscious. Where are we going to go from here?


The console station at the COG command center…

"McNight, this is the third time the terminal has failed to channel a wireless frequency within a period of two hours…" Colonel Hoffman griped as he smacked his hand along the side of the monitor, trying to get the picture to clear up from the static. After a few more slams, the monitor flips into a normal mode as the viewer displays an "internet failure notice" in the middle of the screen.

Raven McNight let out a sigh as she stood next to the frustrated old man, whom was trying to keep a wireless connection between Retreat and their new headquarters at the Vectus Naval Base. Ever since Raven installed the modem components a week earlier, the wireless access was on the fritz, often working some of the time, until recently.

"Colonel, I have spent three days manually checking, every connector in the Retreat outpost…" Raven groaned, knowing that the Colonel wasn't going to take any of her assessments for face value right now.

"Well, Ellie, according to the I.T. dept, everything should be up and running, ever since they installed the software to manage this thing, and I already had a technician do a diagnostic test at our towers and they all came out fine…"

Shit, I really hate it when he calls me that.

"…then it must be a software issue Colonel. It's possible that the software may have either been set up contrary to the grid, or it's not compatible with the system and I'll need to set up a "patch"…I'll need somebody who has security access so I can run a diagnostic of the system," Raven attempted to assure Hoffman as the old man turned in his chair to give her a tired look. Raven lets out a sigh before continuing,

"It would be the fastest and most probable way to figure out what the real problem is…"

Hoffman slumped in his chair, turning his glare back at the monitor as he took off his hat to scratch his head. Raven could tell that he was irritated; shit, he always scratches his head when he's irritated.

"Sigh, so how are you doing, Ellie?" Hoffman abruptly asked out of nowhere.

Now where in the hell did that come from?

"Say what?"

"You heard me…how are you coping?"

"I'm…fine. Better even…since Hayward gave me these pain meds."

"I'm not referring to your physical health, McNight."

For God's sake, what is this? Are you going to be my shrink too?

"I'm here, aren't I?" Raven nagged, hoping that this would be the end to Hoffman's prying. Shit, he's the one who's getting irritated over a software glitch.

Raven could recall many times in her elementary days, the many moods of the then Captain Hoffman, before he was promoted to Major shortly after. She could remember hearing his voice, barking over subordinates while her foster father would take her onto base, something that became routine for the then Captain Jonathan McNight, to bring his daughter to work, in hopes to orient little Eloise Raven McNight to the COG infrastructure. It was a common practice for military personnel to bring their children to the base, on certain rotations so they could see what being a Gear was all about, hoping their children would fallow in their parents footsteps to becoming part of the COG war machine for a more structured future.

But for whatever reason, Hoffman took notice to the little, black haired, pig-tailed girl in a velveteen dress with matching stockings and glossy dress shoes…I always hated that dress. It was the attire that often drew more attention than Eloise ever really wanted, including the likes of the senior staff, in which her father eventually moved up the ranks and became a part of the elite, subjecting the McNight's, pretty little Eloise to formal military functions, graduations, and ribbon cuttings, resulting in wearing the most elaborate, formal little getup her mother made her wear.

Look at your little Eloise now, dad, the thought fumbled in her mind, often wondering if her foster father would've been disappointed in the life she chose, not that there was any other convenient options. Yet, here she was, being interrogated by old man Hoffman, standing with the hinges to her "borrowed" dress, tattering and feathering from the events a few days back, while her high heeled shoes were now heavily scuffed, wandering around the COG headquarters, trying to fix the com system between the base and Retreat in a ragged form fitting dress, platform heels, and, what was once white, now a grease, stained work apron...that just spells a lady with class, right there; mom would be so proud...shit, I really hate this thing.

As her assessment finally sank into the Colonel's head, he knew that Raven was more than competent to do the job, working with equipment that was questionable at best; the question was how far should she be allowed to have sole jurisdiction over the internet connection between the Feral reservation and headquarters, especially after the events of recent. Hoffman knew that the little Eloise McNight was too smart for her own good, and if she wasn't kept in check every now and then, well…

"…if that's so much the case, then I'll need you stay here a little while longer until I can get one of our tech heads to access the terminal…" Hoffman responded while Raven grumbled at the idea of staying in COG headquarters alot longer than she originally anticipated...that means I'm going to be here for at least another three, maybe five days. Like I didn't see that one coming.

"As long as I can have access to some working tools, I can finish the job here," Raven assured him, hoping that she would get at least a reliable cordless drill with a working battery and charger instead of the usual pieces of crap she would have to salvage from the newly COG warehouse, which was nothing more than a raggedy, metal building filled with second hand tools that were probably leftovers from abandoned homes and farms.

Ever since they relocated to Vectus Island, it was as if they had to start from scratch, trying to set up communications between the COG navel base, to makeshift forts along the coast, and the Feral reservation, using the most obsolete electrical and equipment she had ever had to come across. Anytime she mentioned anything digital, the lady behind the counter at the COG tool supply center just glared at her dumbfounded, not having the slightest inclination of what Raven was referring to, while the men, stationed at the warehouse would give her a lecture on how to use them, as if she had "stupid" stamped on her forehead. Shit, even the tools at Hurl Dam worked a lot better than the crap you guys supplied me here, she would growl to herself…and just because I have tits and a vagina doesn't mean I can't work a damn air compressor or a circuit tracer, you chauvinistic assholes!

Raven finally walks over to the nearby table where she kept her duffel bag, filled with a solder, a somewhat working megohmmeter, a couple of motherboards, wiring, cables, and other miscellaneous components that she collected here in there in the event she would need to use it elsewhere. There's no point in throwing away a perfectly working cd drive, or graphics card.

She started to put up her Phillips screwdriver back into a little box-kit and places it into the bag, while gathering some bounded manuals, throwing them into a trashcan nearby…a lot of help they were…complete waste of a tree!

"Don't bother going over to the tool center…" Hoffman began as he sat up in his chair, "…they're about as organized a box of styrofoam popcorn…go to the I.T. dept, they'll have more of what you need there…"

Raven perked up in interest as the old man leaned over to grab his cup of coffee,

"Now I expect your full cooperation in giving the tech head, full access to your passwords and any other link-ups that are presently functioning."

Raven began to sulk, grumbling at the idea that she was going to have to work with someone for the next few days, trying to remedy this situation while allowing a COG personnel full access to the Feral reservations' terminal security code. Shit, is the tech head going to hold my hand too while showing me how to set up a fucking router?

"When should I expect to address this query?" she asked, trying her best not to sound too unenthusiastic.

"Well, " Hoffman sighed as he stood up from his chair while placing his cap back onto his head, "…depending on whatever project I may have to pry him from to get started on this, I'll see to it that you two start tomorrow morning."

Yay.

"…but before you begin, you have an appointment with the clinical psychiatrist first thing in the morning."

You have got to be kidding me, Raven grumbled to herself, gawking at the idea that she was going to visit the COG psychiatric ward to fill out some asinine "test," for the sake of protocol.

"Ok, now why am I being subjected to a therapist?" she griped.

"All personnel are required to take a psyche evaluation, especially anyone who has ever been a POW, or has been exposed to a traumatic event…including a close encounter to a suicide bombing!"

"You've got to be fucking kidding me!"

"It's standard procedure, McNight. If you'd read the COG manual I distinctively gave you, you'd know that all COG personnel are required routine physicals, including psyche evaluations."

"I don't need some shrink digging into my head, looking for some senseless repressed memories while coughing up some ludicrous reason to diagnose me with some vague, rhetorical diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, thus requiring me to make regular appointments to sit and do nothing but spill my sappy life story to some old hag who has nothing better to do with her time but tell me shit I already know…and since when did I become COG personnel?"

"…when your Reverend Mother signed you off back at Farrall. You remember that conversation, right?" the Colonel conveniently reminded her.

Ever since Operation Farrall, Raven loathed at the idea of having to do community service to satisfy past offenses made back during her marauding days, breaking every computer hacking, infiltration law ever made. It was something Colonel Hoffman made a point to remind Raven, anytime she would lean to the thought of reverting back into old habits, while still remembering her service to the COG during the Glacier Valley incident that potentially saved countless lives. It seemed fitting to put the little Eloise McNight into service, keeping her under watch while allowing some freedoms to do her job; a job she grudgingly took, just so she could, temporarily, avoid her breeding obligations.

"…and as far as your psyche evaluation is concerned, you'll be required to visit our psychiatrist once a week, starting tomorrow."

"WHAT?"

"…you have been under duress as of recent McNight, therefore this will be a part of your rehabilitation."

"From what?"

"From yourself McNight…" Hoffman snorts while Raven gave him a scowling glare, "…oh, don't even begin to play stupid with me…don't think for a minute that I'm clueless as to what you've been doing…and I'll be damned if I'll ever let Marion roll in her grave on what a cyber pirate her little girl turned out to be!"

Yea, that's low…go ahead, bring my mother into this, Raven folded her arms across her chest as she listened to the old man lecture her like a highschool coach.

"So you're subjecting me to the shrink because you're afraid I'll go back to computer hacking? Is that it?"

"For fuck's sake, Ellie! Ever since Glacier Valley, you haven't spoken anything to anyone about what happened…and yet, you just continue on as if nothing happened, well pardon me for being the damn skeptic that I am…"

"What the hell is there to say, Colonel?" Raven cut him off, "…Morose was a sadistic masochistic bastard with a vendetta against the COG…and then decided to take it out on you guys back at the Block," Raven continued to gripe, "…and to be quite frank, I don't want to talk about it because there isn't anything I have to say…"

Tossing her screwdriver into her duffel bag, she quickly zips up the bag and places it back onto her shoulder. Hoffman could see the aura of irritation hovering all around her, as if he could read the subtle movements in her behavior, erratic or not.

"You will report to the clinic at o' seven hundred hours…"

Raven let's out a grumble, only giving Hoffman a burrowed glare of disapproval, but nodded anyways just to get it all done and over with as soon as possible so he could finally get off her back about it…I guess it couldn't get any worse.

Hoffman continued,

"…and when you're dismissed from the clinic, you can then report to the I.T. office to get whatever equipment you'll need and then report to the terminal station afterwards, providing Corporal Baird the security password he needs in running a diagnostic and accessing the reservation network."

…shit, it just got worse.


Chapter 8: Changing of The Guard Edit

You...sugar taste,

Sweetness doesn't often touch my face.

Stay...if you please,

You may not be here when I leave.


As of now I bet you got me wrong,

So unsure you reach for something strong.


I haven't felt like this in so long,

Wrong, in a sense too far gone from love,

That don't last forever...

Something's gotta turn out right.


Got Me Wrong [4]
Alice In Chains


The next day, at Vectus Hospital…

Walking hastily out the front door from the psychiatry clinic, Raven picked up her pace, walking on bare feet down the hall of various clinical offices in the east wing of Vectus hospital. Her seven o’clock psychiatry appointment couldn’t end soon enough after spending almost the entire hour, literally spilling her life story to some old man with a M.D. in psychiatric therapy. She meandered around the coming and going of the hospital staff, contemplating another wasted hour of her valuable time; an hour of my life I’ll never get back, thanks Colonel!

Although the doctor seemed to have some authority on psychiatric matters, his ability of interacting with patients was flimsy at best, occasionally stuttering on his words while processing the information she was giving to him, almost non-stop. This guy is probably two steps short of retirement…he sure could use it. He spent almost the entire time adjusting his glasses that would continuously slide down the bridge of his nose, all the while scratching the thick patch of disheveled, white whiskers on his chin. Like many of the hospital staff, it was obvious the old man was working overtime, so much that he couldn’t even make the time to shave.

But now that grossly unnecessary part of my day is done...so now to the other side of the fucking rainbow, Raven grumbled to herself. She folded up a piece of paper and stuffed it into her duffel bag, hoping she’ll make it to the I.T. dept in time before the other personnel got dibs on the good stuff. Although the Technician Dept. was on base, it was still quite a commute on foot from Vectus Hospital, especially in high heels.

With her shoes thrown over her shoulder to make the most of every stride she can muster on her short legs, she exited the Hospital entrance and out onto the Naval Base Plaza, located not too far from the coast. The sounds of the early morning tide could be heard in the near distance, along with the seagulls making their rounds, hoping to find some uneaten bread or stale donuts the cooks from the mess hall would empty into the dumpster nearby. Then the birds would flock over to whomever ended up with garbage duty that morning, pecking at his pants and boots before he could even empty the trashcans.

Gears were in the process of getting coffee and biscuits before the shift change, and then ate on the run. By this time in the morning, the Plaza was active with Gears and other COG personnel, coming and going, getting their breakfast or dinner, and then either retreated to work or to the barracks to sleep. Most of them were in partial uniform, adjusting to the sauna that would hit by mid afternoon while only a few were in full armor with only their arms left bare; something that was somewhat alien to Raven since she only saw them in full Frost garb back in Fort Block. But now, they meandered around base in their light polyester, short-sleeve shirts and Kevlar-lined battle fatigues while Raven was still draped in her black, tethering dress, loosely held together by the grease-stained apron.

As she moved around the sparse crowd, she could feel the eyes follow her as many a Gear would take a moment to ogle the little Feral. Although Raven wasn’t in the customary Feral attire, they could still tell by her demeanor, her poise, and her build that she was definitely a Feral. Although most of the Gears by now had seen and perhaps dealt with a Feral, they never ceased to be curious about the wild, ornery women; most of which was often due to the ludicrous rumors that have been passed around as of recent. Some were so nonsensical, even Raven had to laugh at such stories. The idea that a Feral could snap a man's appendage off with her snatch was extremely absurd; and yet they actually believe that. Is it any wonder why Gears are so uneasy around Feral.

Nevertheless, for a group battle-hardened men, some of which who have not seen a woman in months, such stories became a means to pass the time, especially since it was announced that some will be eligible for the breeding program that was being initiated by the Council of Matriarchs. Although one would think the men would be ecstatic about the idea, but surprisingly it was the opposite. Many of the Gears were terrified of the idea, so anxious in fact that there was a sudden flux in sleeping disorders amongst the men...can't imagine why. The COG sanctioned pharmacy soon ran out of sleeping aids and have since then subjected the patients to alternative methods of therapy. Some, on the other hand, just went straight to the homemade brew as an alternative means to solve their anxiety problems. One thing was for sure; they definitely slept better.

Approaching the storage warehouse parking lot, Raven finally met the place where she was to rendezvous with the assigned technician, whom was supposed to provide her with the inquiry and passwords needed to address the software glitch in the system. As the sun was already making its appearance from behind the morning haze, she noticed that her “co-worker” was nowhere to be seen, just a handful of vehicles parked in random spots on the lot. Damnit, that asshole’s late!

After dropping her bag that had been pulling on her shoulder for the past twenty minutes, she rolled her neck to release the tension from carrying the heavy duffel bag all over base; after this, I’m going to the scrap yard to look for a motorcycle. She could feel the heat index flux rapidly as sweat began to bead and dribble down the side of her face; damnit, where is he? It’s hot as Hades out here…

Suddenly, an outburst could be heard coming from somebody banging on something nearby.

“C’mon…piece of shit,” a man could be heard growling out loud, followed with another sequence of random expletives. Wait, I know that voice…

Raven turned around to see a half-ton Brahma sitting idle on the edge of the parking lot with the passenger side door open and the hood up. As a clanging could be heard coming from someone apparently working underneath the big truck, Raven walked around in curiosity, only to find a pair of legs propped up underneath the chassis, followed with another burst of profane remarks as he pulled himself out from under the engine with a monkey wrench in hand.

Peering long and hard at a grimy, tousled Damon Baird, she let out something of a sigh of relief before Baird could even comment in being in the company of someone he hadn’t seen in two months.

Geez, he hasn’t changed at all, Raven couldn’t help but to reminisce the cantankerous Corporal with an itch for expressing himself verbally in almost every state of affair. His cropped and disheveled blond hair was littered in brake dust, not to mention his pale face was caked in it. The stubble on his square jaw was apparent with the exception of the tuff of hair he had left alone on his chin, which Raven rhetorically called it a Gear’s droll motif of masculinity.

Beyond his usual means of facial hygiene that Raven remembered so vividly, he wore a grease-stained, pale t-shirt that fit snug around his pectorals while it loosely fit around his waist, which he apparently used to wipe his greasy hands on. His bottom fatigues were Gear issued, along with his combat boots and utility belt, but he didn’t wear a holster, nor an ammo clip. Surely he must still carry something on base…especially after recent events.

With so much to say and yet so apprehensive to say it, Raven could only mumble at Baird’s folly.

“Did you need help with that?”

Curling his lip in dismay as if he was just insulted, without comment or even a witty snark, Baird slid back under the engine and went back to work. Feeling as if he was intentionally ignoring her, Raven let out a heavy sigh while crossing her arms before taking a glance at her wrist-watch, wondering how long it was going to take for Baird to fix his shitpiece, truck. Just as she was about to walk away, Baird yelled out from under the truck,

“Hey, hand me a Phillips, willya?”

Within seconds, Raven was scanning the vicinity looking for a Phillips screwdriver, when she spotted what appeared to be a tool bag; shit, where’d he get one of those? Walking over to the bag, she knelt down to look into it and surely enough, she found five Phillips-head screwdrivers, segregated in their own compartment of the tool bag…wow, this thing is so organized. How come I can’t get anything like this?

After a brief deliberation, she finally picked one and walked back over to the place where Baird was working.

“I didn’t know what size you needed, so will this one do?” she asked as she knelt down next to his legs. In response, Baird pulled himself out from under the chassis before Raven leaned over to hand it to him. Taking a glance at it, he replied back.

“Yea, that’ll work. I just need to tighten the screws to the sensors; they’re standard size, unlike the bolts to the air compressor belt, which I had to scrounge around base all fucking morning just to find the right wrench size. Shit, I hate fixing Brahmas!” he groaned before sliding right back under the engine.

Although Brahmas were pretty reliable work trucks, general maintenance and replacing parts on them was a bitch, due to the fact that most of their parts were custom and not standard like most vehicles; hence the reason most people preferred the smaller pick-ups, or Packhorses. Mechanics had to have specially sized tools to properly take off and on replacement parts on Brahmas, which didn’t surprise Raven that Baird would have had to spend all morning rummaging around every chop shop in the immediate nearby towns to find them. Hell, I’m surprised he managed to find anything at all.

“Why are you driving a Brahma when you could be using one of the Packhorses?” Raven had to ask, although knowing Baird, there probably was a very logical explanation as to why.

“Well,” Baird began as he cringed while tightening the screws, “…because I got last dibs on what I could use to carry all these consoles and shit around base. You realize how heavy those cables from the com tower are?”

“Considering I had to reroute some of them at the tower in Retreat, yea Baird, I do…”

“…Then you know exactly what I’m talking about,”

…and she did. She knew the cables were specially made and were exceptionally heavy to carry around, not to mention the other components that were subjected to inspection. Fortunately for Raven, with the tower being close to a work site, majority of the components were easily accessible, while Baird on the other hand, had to lug it all over base in the Brahma.

Finishing a few more touches to the sensors, Baird reached across the pavement to grab a rag so he could wipe off the grime from his screwdriver.

“Finally…” Baird griped as he pulled himself out from under the Brahma. Carefully wiping down his tools one at a time, he looked back up at Raven with his eyes squinting under the blazing sun.

“Can you bring my tool bag over here, please?” he actually asked without any hint of coarseness in his tone. Without thought, Raven complied as she walked over to pick up his tool bag by the handle and than walked back, gently placing the somewhat heavy bag next to Damon’s straddled legs.

“Thanks,” he managed to spit out between the sudden rush of the heat hitting his already rosy face and an abrupt snort of some engine fluid that happened to drip on his white shirt, “…fuck, that shit stinks…”

Carefully placing his tools in their appropriate compartment, Raven could hear him mumbling to himself while going through his checklist of tools, making sure he had everything accounted for. Shortly after zipping up his bag, he hopped up and then meandered over to the hood to remove the latch handle and drop the hood down, consequently closing it. Wiping his hands along the ream of his shirt, Baird looked up, still squinting from the bright light coming from the mid morning sun.

“Alright, she’s ready to go to headquarters…so what do we need?”

“Headquarters? I thought we’re supposed to go to the I.T. dept?” Raven asked.

“That’s where I.T. is…and their equipment,” Baird elaborated.

Well that explains why I couldn’t find it in the directory, Raven muttered to herself before Baird gave her a bemused look.

“What?” he abruptly asked.

“Nothing…I just…thought that they had their own warehouse, that’s all. I didn’t think to look them up at COG headquarters.”

“Well, that’s where they are…but before we start rummaging through their shit, we’ll need to make a checklist…”

“That’s going to depend on what kind of analysis I’ll need to run on the mainframe.”

“So you are running a diagnostic on the system.”

“It’s the only, sure way, or at least the one the Colonel is counting on, so yea, I’m running a diagnostic on the system.”

“Well damn…then we’ll need to stop by the barracks…”

“Wait, the barracks? What for?”

“Running a diagnostic on that damn thing is going to take up most of the day,” he began as he hopped into the bed of the truck to open up the aluminum tool chest. Tossing the bag into the tool compartment before closing it, he then hopped back over the tailgate as he continued,

“…so I may as well go and hit the shower first…that way, you don’t have to inhale my carbon-mixed B.O. all day!”

Coming back around to the front of the truck where Raven was still standing with her arms crossed, his gaze finally met with hers. Déjà vu hit him for that brief moment as the world around him fazed out and all that seemed to matter was her icy cold stare that could melt a glacier.

Watching him take a moment to wipe the sweat from his grimy brow while leaning against the hood of the truck, Raven attempted to break the awkward silence.

“Well, I guess I should be thankful that you’re looking out for my welfare, and the welfare of my hygiene preferences…”

“Hey look, it’s my rotation to use the shower, and come hell or high water, I’m not going to skip it…that and I need to shave.”

“Shave what, your ass?” Raven spat out without hesitation, “…what’s wrong with using the sink?”

Baird’s brow drooped down over his condescending blue gaze, feeling the weight of Raven’s rhetoric all over again…yep, it’s Glacier Valley all over again. At least she’s still cute when she’s being mean.

“For your information, there hasn’t been a working sink in the barracks in the past week, so no, I can’t use the damn sink,” he griped before meandering around the truck and over to the passenger side to open up the door before gesturing Raven to get in, “…so without further adieu, Madame Feral…”

Standing without anything else productive to say, Raven bit her tongue and dragged her feet over to the passenger side of the truck where Baird decided to add insult to injury by holding out his hand to help her step in. Ok, now he’s just patronizing me…but for the sake of keeping her sanity, Raven decided to just leave her baggage to the side for the moment and took Baird’s seemingly hospitality.

Carefully stepping into the cabin before sitting into a musty old vinyl seat, she pulled her legs in before allowing Baird to close the door. She reached over to her right side to look for the shoulder harness to the seat belt, only to find a strap that looked as if several wraps of duct tape were literally holding it together. Appalled by the condition of the shoulder harness mechanism, she whipped around to the sound of the driver side door opening as Baird hopped into the driver seat and then slammed the door shut. Tossing a rag onto the dashboard, he could already feel the singe of Raven’s heavy ogling.

“Sigh, what is it now, Rav?”

“Damon, the seat belt doesn’t work…” she conveniently mentioned while giving Baird her usual sarcastic glare of disapproval. Letting out a sigh before placing his key into the ignition, Baird then turned his attention to Raven who was sitting with her hands plopped into her lap and her dirty, bare feet propped up on the duffel bag that was lying on the floor.

“Like I said…I got last dibs on my choice of vehicles,” Baird reiterated before turning the key to the ignition. The engine choked for the first ten seconds before it finally came on, sputtering occasionally out of the exhaust pipe. The Brahma shimmied for a little bit but then subsided as Baird revved the engine on and off, and then finally sat back to put on his functioning seatbelt. After getting settled, he turned over to Raven whom was still appalled at the grossly, inadequate machine.

“You’re gonna have to just use the lap belt, sweetheart. It’s still within regulation, so you’re ok.”

Raven grumbled to herself before finally reaching over and pulling the lap belt over to the buckle and snapping it in. Shortly afterward, she thrusted herself into the back of her tattered vinyl seat and crossed her arms, sulking while glaring out the passenger side window. Baird shrugged it off before finally putting the Brahma into reverse to back it out of the parking space. Coming to a halt, Baird fiddled with the automatic gear stick directly behind the steering wheel.

“C’mon bitch, let’s do this…” he grumbled as the stick finally shifted into drive. Choking a few times before the automatic transmission shifted gears, the truck finally caught its breath and started to move forward.

Raven could only slump in her seat as Baird managed to finally get the rickety thing going, making way onto the main base road that would eventually take them to the barracks. Peering at the blinking digital clock on the dash, Raven could only hope that there was still plenty of time to at least run a diagnostic on the system before the day was done. Judging by the inevitable traffic, she simply peered out the window, watching the world go by as the morning sun was bright and high in the air. Shit, it’s almost mid-day!

Chapter 9: Rattling The Cage Edit

Don't you know I suffer?

Can you hear me moan?

You caught me under false pretenses,

How long before you let me go?


I thought I was a fool for no one,

But oh baby I'm a fool for you.

You're the queen of the superficial,

And how long before you tell the truth.


You set my soul alight…

-Muse- [5]

Sitting idle on a bench just outside Dr. Hayman's office, Sergeant Jacquin straddled his legs to ease the cramping from walking lopsided the day before, cringing from the stitches he'd been enduring on the right side of his back. Leaning the crown of his head against the wall, Lucius let's out a sigh, hoping that the doctor would relieve him of medical leave so that he may go back to babysittingthe cranky Raven McNight, although he had a feeling the doctor wasn't going to be so easily swayed by his own insistence of his overall well-being.

Just as he closed his eyes for a moment, drifting into a dream state, where he could ponder on the more pleasant things in life he could still recant, like the sweet, cool texture of soft-serve ice cream, or the smooth, silky feel of a woman's freshly shaven legs. It wasn't even within a few minutes as that callous woman's voice could be heard from inside her open office, severing his concentration.

"You can come in, Sergeant."

Groaning as he opened his eyes, the pleasant images he had locked inside his head was put to the side as he sat up and carefully stood back up on his feet, flinching from the pain in his right side from the stitches; shit, I really hope these don't tear.

He steps into Dr. Hayward's office, cringing as his eyes meet with hers. The older woman sat in her creaking chair, glaring at him with her frumpy façade that could make a man's pecker run and hide in an instant. It wasn't so much that she was ugly or a hideous sight to sore eyes, but her poise and reputation as being the most bitter of ornery hags this side of Sera, with a Raven pilot, Major Gettner, coming in close second, didn't settle all that well with the Sergeant. He knew now that his ass was at the mercy of this woman, and as of Lucius' most latest of experiences with women in general was becoming only more increasingly tedious, his chances of getting back to his post as he would've hoped for, just withered into obscurity.

He got the gist from the doctor's sour glare to sit his ass down in a chair instead of standing at attention like any typical man in uniform, so he carefully pulls takes a seat in one of the chairs that sat flushed against the wall that was adjacent to her metal desk. The office wasn't exactly one that could use a woman's touch, or at least one from the likes of a bitter doctor, but it sure made the Sergeant feel even more less at home, whatever home actually felt like for him…it sure as hell isn't this.

Letting out a sigh before closing his case file that laid snug in a tattered manila folder, Dr. Hayward removed the stethoscope from around her neck and placed on her desk before she began her usual protocol of addressing the patient her analysis.

"You have two more days of medical leave before you can go back to post, Sergeant…"

Pfft, go figure.

"…and upon after you complete your final appointment, you're ordered to return to Retreat to take post back at the reservation."

Lucius' glare beams in puzzlement.

"Wait…I was given ordered to supervise the Feral Consulate…"

"You are to report to Colonel Hoffman after your next psyche evaluation…" Hayward abruptly interrupted, as if she knew the Sergeant was going to protest at the news of his reassignment.

"Doctor, I just completed a psyche evaluation not even a month ago."

"Due to the extreme circumstances of having a near death experience, you are to be re-evaluated Sergeant."

Lucius let out an abrupt sigh as he raised his arm in exasperation and then let it fall into his lap, grumbling to the doctor with no ammunitions left to continue the debate.

"Yes ma'am.," was all he could muster. Three years of walking the Beat in a notorious red light district, and here I am, submitting to the whim of this old witch.

"Sergeant…Lucius," Hayward began hesitantly, calling him by his first name for the first time in a long time; ok, where is she going with this, "…it has been suggested, by reliable sources…that it would be in the better interest of the Feral Consulate if she temporarily reassigned from her diplomatic duties, and proceed in addressing equipment issues at the command center."

"Doctor…you do realize that McNight was…is, a capable hacker, and has successfully many a time, infiltrated sensitive COG intel…"

"I know about Eloise' past occupation, Lucius. I spent almost an hour listening to Madam McNight bitch about her new occupation while I was tending to her wounds. In the meantime, as I understand it, other subordinates will be assigned to watch the little wench!"

Although Dr. Hayward has used harsh words before, mostly to subject her dissent to old man Hoffman, but for this one time, the Sergeant wasn't the least bit surprised. But the fact that he was to be taken off duty from keeping tabs on Raven, was.

"The job is out of your hands Sergeant. Go and use your time off wisely…you may never have another chance at this again," she was careful to remind him, knowing that as of late, free time was becoming a critical means of therapy for these soldiers whom have been under a lot of strain, "...besides, as I understand it, you're about to be a father here real soon, and then you'll be reinstated back to Retreat."

Lucius just sat in bewilderment, not wanting to argue it further as he watched Dr. Hayward finish writing her report in his case file. While still writing, she took a moment to glance up as she caught onto Lucius' tired, yet firm glare.

"She's in good hands Sergeant…Raven I mean," she spoke in something that could resemble a soothing voice, "…well, in something you can say mayresemble, company…"

"Decent company, huh?"

"I didn't say decent…" she mused rhetorically.

"And so the Colonel also believes that she's in good hands?"

"Ironically Sergeant…in some sadistic, ironic way, yes…he does."


"Meanwhile, in Retreat…"

...Captain Miller grumbled at another day of sitting aimlessly in the Retreat downtown, city council room, making his routine appearance to a council meeting while wasting away the hours listening to a group of right-wing conservatives, dishing their usual rhetoric of moral standing and the conventional means of doing so, and then shunning everything else, including (but not limited to), the Feral reservation.

Sitting adjacent to the white, clean-cut, Mayor Briemright, Miller could feel the Mayor's eyes glaze over his Gear dressings, branding his usual battle fatigues while wearing something of a clean t-shirt as an alternative to the festering heat than that of wearing the full armor. That, and he figured it would look a bit less intimidating, however, despite his intentions, he would still get that cold, ominous glare from the anal-retentive Mayor.

Apparently the man had both feet deeply rooted into the political sway that infested the small, isolated town of Retreat. Any foreigner could feel it hover in space the minute they walked past the city lines, suddenly subjected to the wide-eyed glare of the townsfolk with their noses shifted high into the air and their chests puffed up like parading roosters walking past the hen house. But with the town being what the Chamber of Vectus referred to as an "independent scout town," Retreat had the freedom to run their little part of the world as they saw fit, and pretty much just damned everything else.

The only thing they did not have jurisdiction over was the territory that ran along Mount Kevlar, in which they chose not to govern the land mostly because they deemed it useless and an unnecessary burden on taxpayers to include a large chunk of land that nobody wanted to buy, much less spend the time and resources to sell. The only thing about the land that had any value was an old airport that housed many of the decades old, Pendulum War planes that were deemed obsolete many a year ago, especially after E-Day. However, the cost to maintain the airport exceeded the town's means to even make any profit from it, so it was just left to decay until the COG took it over. Only now, did they find the latest development in dissent, with the COG reserving the land for Feral occupation, among other things the Retreat Council abhorred.

So it was widely suggested that Miller take seat during Retreat political functions to hopefully aid Foreign policy and relations to the leaders of Retreat by setting precedence there on behalf of the COG and Feral. Unfortunately, the meetings were just as bland as they were unappealing. Miller was beginning to feel the futile mind-set that has long taken precedence in the city-state, realizing that to even open his mouth was going to open a hornet's nest from hell. Oh well, at least the secretary gives the room something pleasant to observe…

…and pleasant she was indeed. The secretary sat in her own infinitesimal desk next to the mayor as she was typing rigorously at her lap-top, recanting the council meeting's entourage for that long and tedious two, sometimes three hours. Miller leaned back into his chair, occasionally turning his sore gaze at the petite woman, whom had her silky, strawberry-blonde hair pulled up into elegant curls, sitting erect in her chair as she kept her gaze locked onto the lap-top screen while she typed effortlessly and without pause. Her v-neck, navy dress was wrapped snugly around her curves, flaunting her figure with class and prudence, but tantalizing for the Captain who would have otherwise walked out of the room to find better things to do with his time than listen to the Mayor Briemright's constant nagging about the COG's occupational post too close to Retreat city limits.

Nevertheless, Miller would occasionally peel his eyes from the enchanting secretary, to glance at his wrist-watch since the wall clock in the room hasn't been working since he could recall even learning that there was a wall-clock in the room. As the meeting finally came to adjourn, the men began to empty their seats, pacing themselves gradually, as if they had all the time in the world to talk about their latest golf score or the results of their routine doctor's appointment the week before. The wares and fairs of men in their own immaculate meaning of justice…pompous bastards!

As the Captain was just about to walk his way to the chamber doors, a vice could be heard from across the room,

"Captain Miller…"

Miller turned around, alerting his functioning earpiece as he makes a gesture to the district attorney walking over to greet him.

"Counselor Adams…" Miller replied smugly, flaunting his most beaming of charming charisma that he could muster at a whim. Normally he reserved such flattery for the ladies, but in these circumstances, he needed all the help he could get, even if it was at the mercy of this douchebag.

"I've been meaning to talk with you Captain," the Counselor respectfully requested.

"Of course Counselor…I'm at your service."

"It would seem that the higher-ups of what you would probably perceive as a lion's den of bureaucracy at it's most lucrative worst, Captain…"

"They're just concerned about the welfare of their town and citizens. It's not an everyday occurrence, I'm sure, to have a foreign government set up a military occupancy next door to your district."

"Indeed Captain," Counselor Adams couldn't help but to chuckle at Miller's casual muse, "…but as you and I know, I wouldn't believe you to be so graciously patient as you have been with a handful of old bags who could waste twenty minutes of their senseless time, wandering aimlessly in the chamber parking lot just trying to find where they parked their car."

As humorous as it may otherwise seem, sadly the Counselor wasn't too far from the truth. These men were well into age, and as time has passed, so has memory…well, at least short-term memory. The oldest was chancellor Drain, whom was pushing ninety, and the old, bitter bastard just couldn't die soon enough. It was as if God was going to punish him, and the rest of the world by allowing him to live even longer for the sake of His amusement. As well as being the oldest, he was also the most resentful, which made Colonel Hoffman look like a glowing angel compared to this rotten old fart.

The next on Miller's senile list was Judge Elroy; a rather stout man with a gray-trimmed beard, whom had a pout similar to that of a bulldog. His gaze was unwavering and he seldom smiled. Of all the men that sat in the room, his honor, the judge, was the foulest to the eye. Miller couldn't imagine any convict sitting before this troll of a man, and live to tell about it, before the geezer slammed his hammer of fate, sentencing any man or woman to more beautiful scenery than the likes of sitting before his agonizing appearance. It's any wonder why nobody around here asks for an appeal.

At any rate, the list went on, as the lethargic atmosphere would suck the life out of anyone whom came in with pure intentions, only to be struck down at the whim of these ratty bastards.

"Well then Counselor, surely I wouldn't want to waste any more of your time by humoring you with COG and Feral diplomacy, now would I?"

"Now, now, Captain," Adams mused with a twinkle in his eye, "…surely you don't think that we are all against your occupation in the wastelands of Kevlar's basin?"

"Well, apparently the good Mayor insists that we're an abomination to the community as a whole and that our presence has undermined the peace and harmony of the people of Retreat."

"Oh nonsense. That old buzzard was just being a stickler as usual, trying to play God with his own version of politics as he sees fit."

"…so why are we having this discussion then?"

"Do you know of the Mayor's influence on Vectus Captain?"

"Breimright? He wouldn't be the same Briemright as in, Briemright Components, Manufacturing Industries, would it?"

"You're a marvel Captain. It's any wonder why the COG has put you in charge here at the Retreat outpost."

Yea, like flattery is going to get your sorry ass anywhere near my outpost, you sorry little prick!

Miller was never a big fan of lawyers; district attorneys, or otherwise…they're all the same. It was after his own series of failed marriages that left people of that particular occupation a bad taste in his mouth. It wasn't so much because he was unfaithful, or had a bad habit that would put a damper on finances, but the fact that Miller was incapable of producing offspring due to low sperm count. Unfortunately for him, he didn't know about this little detail until it was too late. However, each and every ex-wife was able to play the victim card of being financially disabled, and therefore was entitled to half his property and meager earnings, leaving him with the scraps that was left on the courtroom floor.

So now, he reveled in the bachelor life, screwing around with whomever he wanted, when he wanted, not having to worry about consequences that came with fornification. But at the same time, as the years have gone by as fast as the women, life would seem to be even more shallow with each and every time be blew his load to satisfy that unnerving craving…that universal need to feel that he was still a man, and to be accepted just the same. It was a never-ending ferris wheel of satisfaction, then regret, and lastly, guilt. So to put aside the remorse, he would wallow it away with another night of hot sexual bliss, only to start the feriss wheel all over again.

But for the sake of keeping something that resembled tolerable relations between the townsfolk of Retreat and his post, Miller chewed on his own bias and kept a smiling pleasant face for the District Attorney.

"Your confidence in me is an unexpected privilege Counselor…but I digress why the Mayor's influence has anything to due with diplomacy."

"As you have correctly pointed out, Captain, the Mayor has an investment in the private company that has several major contracts, including some manufacturing for Pelruan."

"So I assume he also has shares invested in a few other companies as well all across Vectus…"

"Yes, however, many as of recent have been running lukewarm, so to speak."

"Is production down, or is it demand? I find it hard to believe that demand would be an issue."

"No, production and demand have surprisingly been steady since E-day. Profits however are marginal, and have only been getting worse as of recent."

"Let me guess…COG occupation has put a significant damper on the margin."

"On the contrary Captain, the COG has recently been one of Breimright's largest consumer."

"And I bet the Gorasni was anything but thrilled about that development."

"Indeed. The Gorasni has been one of Breimright's most lucrative clients within the past fifteen years, and has had a significant partnership, thirty years before that."

"Wait…how long has the company been doing business with the Gorasni?"

"Forty-five years."

Miller's beaming façade slumped slightly at the revelation of a company that has been manufacturing components for the UIR nation even during the controversial events that developed at Anvil gate. There's bound to be some old wounds coming to the surface, Miller recanted.

"Still, it doesn't make any sense. His company should be making even more of a profit, even after the Great War."

"Well, believe it or not, many men of business here would agree with you. It seemed to be the more logical choice to include both clientele, especially since both have, special resources that will prove significant for rebuilding humanity."

"So what is the real reason that profits have been marginal?"

"Overall production on all of Vectus has been on the decline, causing a rift in the overall economic welfare of the big five major corporations that are still functioning here on Vectus. As you're probably aware, piracy has been on the rise, causing many delays on shipments and production. Breimright's sister company, Santa Fe, has lost all mineral resources due to one calamity or another."

"I don't suppose the Locusts have been primarily responsible for skewering majority of Santa Fe's production."

"Surprisingly no. The Hammer assault however, has caused significant damage to the company's resources. They dispatched contract prospectors to look for alternative resources, however they ceased mineral prospecting after several parties have disappeared from one thing or another."

"Let me guess, the Stranded…"

"Stranded, Locust alike…but especially with the Feral."

"The Feral?"

"That's right, Captain."

"Now why would the Feral even be remotely interested in prospectors, especially since majority are men and seldom carry anything on them that would deem useful to a Feral?"

"Contrary to what you may think about me Captain, I have asked the council the same thing."

"The council?"

"Yes. You see Captain, Santa Fe was one of a first of a handful of prosperous corporations whom began the Imulsion energy movement shortly after Coopers' discovery. In fact, Santa Fe was one of the only three companies' that originally donated funding Dr. Coopers' research, when most other companies would make a small bid for the sake of empathy."

"Therefore Santa Fe had the largest bid in Imulsion energy expansion."

"Exactly. Breimright Components also had a significant percentage in shares due to its' coalition with Santa Fe."

"I'll admit that it's a very interesting economy lesson, but I'm still at a loss as to why it has anything to do with the Feral, other than the claims that they are primarily responsible for the disappearance of their freelancer prospectors."

"Do you remember the Berrell Project, from thirty years ago?"

"Yes. They were given funding to do research on other practical uses of Imulsion…specifically in the bio-weapons district."

"Yes. Berrell Industries received a lot of money to do whatever the hell they wanted without parameter, until Chairman Dalyell put a stop to the funds and invested resources into investigating the experimentation going on over at their main facility."

"If I recall correctly, they were doing experiments on human beings, mostly POW's, the homeless, and other peoples of low economic propriety that they were able to exploit. No one would have questioned their disappearance."

"Yes. After someone mysteriously leaked out sensitive information to high command, Dalyell cracked down on Berrell, freezing their accounts and seizing all assets in response to the findings. One of companies that was funding the experimentation was Breimright Components."

"You're shittin me!"

"Don't get me wrong Captain. Briemright was totally out of the loop about the research going on at Berrell and soon as their findings came to light, Breimright too ceased funding as well."

"I bet that was a stain on the companies' prestigious stock portfolio."

"Indeed. Whatever funds they invested into Berrell they never recouped the loses."

"But Breimright wasn't the only one to stand to lose from Berrell."

"No. Prescott was the one whom stood to lose the most."

"You mean Chairman Richard Prescott?"

"No. His father, David Prescott. David was a huge investor into Imulsion development, with Berrell being one of many that the family has long invested in. They have made a huge profit over the century."

"So with all due respect, Counselor, what does this have to do with the Feral again?"

"Be patient Captain, I'm getting there. One of the many files that was uncovered during the raid was when Berrell hired and paid a handful of freelancer mercenaries to go out and round up some Feral for their experimentations."

"Son of a …so they had some Feral for their test subjects?"

"Some were said to have been voluntary, although I'm using that term loosely. However, the patient files suggested that some were not, according to the investigation."

"So we had this corporation run amuck with human experimentation, causing additional dissidence amongst the populous."

"Although the details from the report was sketchy since alot of the files from the main database was either deleted or relocated, somebody out there knew something about what really happened during those incidents, other than the anonymous tip that was mailed and placed on Dalyell's desk. Unfortunately, when E-day happened, all inquiries into the investigation ceased."

"Yea, we had bigger issues on our hand...so what you're implying is that there may be some bad blood on behalf of the Feral and the remaining branches of Briemright Industries?"

"It's a possibility, but there was never an accurate number of clans that have been widespread on this side of Sera, so it's difficult to tell whether these remnants that reside on the reservation are the one's whom where directly related to the Berrell Project."

"Lemme guess...you're wanting me to confirm your inquiry to the Feral; to their Council of Matriarchs about any involvement in those experiments?"

"I was hoping for the sake of future diplomacy, that this obstacle, if one can be had, may be dealt with, in a more civil matter."

"As in, compensation, and then letting this whole thing slide under the rug? Let bygones be bygones? Is this what the Retreat Council wants?"

"I do not know as of yet…but by now, especially after recent events with the kelp trawler...and that unfortunate incident with that suicide bombing, it certainly wouldn't hurt to bring it up for your next meeting with the Feral ambassador, now would it?"


At the Vectus Base barracks shower room...

Raven made the most of her time while waiting in the dressing room, just outside communal showers, writing down whatever equipment she would like to have on her list so she could run the necessary diagnostic on the central terminal system, but whether the I.T. department would even have the equipment she desired is a quandary in itself.

She sat on a bench, quietly going over the possible schematics of the software that she installed awhile back ago, trying to isolate the issue more closely for the sake of saving time, but knowing my luck, I'm going to end up staring at a monitor for three days just going through the back-up files, trying to find the software glitch.

Trying to keep her focus as she wrote with her pencil, the trickling water could be heard falling on pavement coming from the showers nearby, along with a few choice words apparently coming from Baird's groaning as he moaned at the sweet sensation of warm water running down his bare backside.

"Oh yea…that's it…fuckin' aye…" she could hear him rant under the pretense of some brief moment of ecstasy, even though it was just nothing more trivial than a hot shower. Nevertheless, Baird was making a point as he turned around to the shower head above, letting the falling water splash on his face as he shook his head. Being the only one in the shower, Baird was enjoying the space available to him, making the most of the warm running water that was running down the font of his body.

Raven sat idle on the bench for a moment, holding her head up by her arm propped up on her thigh. She was getting annoyed with Baird's rhetorical commentary while he lathered himself up on whatever soap was still available in the laundry room. Letting out a sigh, Raven glanced at her wrist-watch; damnit, it's almost lunchtime!

Subconsciously tapping her pencil on her notebook she had placed in her lap, it soon occurred to her that the shower faucet was turned off; he's done…finally. Trying not to think too much about it, Raven kept her eyes fixed onto her open notebook as Baird casually entered through the shower entryway and into the dressing room, drying his thick matted hair with one of the white towels. Without being conscientious of the fact that he didn't have anything covering his male bits, he proceeded to wipe down his face, while taking a glance at Raven sitting on the bench with her back to him and head buried into her notebook as if she was intentionally ignoring him.

"So, you got a list of what you need?" he attempted to be casual with the mood while drying the rest of his parts.

"Yes," she answered without looking up or turning around. Damon could only smirk as he proceeded to dry the rest of his body while bending down to wipe off the water from his legs.

"Be sure to include the bandwith of the connection in your calculations…"

"Already ahead of you, Baird," she said abruptly, while suddenly taking a moment to write something down.

As he stood up after finishing drying himself off, he crumpled the towel into a ball and tossed it over Raven's head, consequently falling onto her lap.

"Damnit Damon! You're going to get the pages wet," she griped, picking the damp towel and tossing it to the other side of the bench, not giving Baird the satisfaction of trying to get a rise out of her.

"I thought you would have it memorized by now?" he began to nag.

"What the hell gives you that idea?"

"The fact that you've been staring at that thing for the past ten minutes!"

Raven only returned a shrug while keeping her gaze fixated to her notes. Although the atmosphere in the room was blasé, Baird instantly changed the subject for the sake of just passing time.

"You do realize I'm not going to be offended if you turn around…besides it's nothing you haven't seen before," he conveniently reminded her.

"I never implied that I didn't."

"So what? Does seeing my bare ass give you the shimmies or something?"

Raven finally slapped her notebook shut before she takes a moment to look up and turn around. In the instant, she gets a wide-angle, full-frontal of a naked Damon Baird, going through his clothes, shaking his white shirt before gazing at her with a smug. It wasn't so much of getting an eyeful of Damon in all his bare, masculine glory that was trying her, but the fact that whatever plans she had to return to Retreat within minimal time was becoming increasingly improbable.

After pulling out the rest of his undergarments from the clothes pile, he stood up to scratch himself before slipping into his underwear, all the while flashing her a patronizing grin. She only gave him a scowl in return before she continued to gripe.

"Damon, will you please hurry up and get your clothes on? You've already wasted twenty minutes of my time, doing God knows what in the shower…"

"Yea, yea, working on it, Rav."

"Thank you," Raven barked turning back around and redirecting her gaze back to her notebook again as she carefully peeled the damp pages apart, trying her best not to tear them. Baird could only chuckle to himself as he reached over to his pants, lifting them up before placing his legs in, one at a time.

"But…just between us ladies, I gotta ask…"

Raven put her notebook back down on her lap again before she let out a sigh, keeping her gaze forward as she responded.

"And what is that, Corporal?"

"Does size really matter?"

"Why are you asking someone whom you have claimed, and I quote; has never had any cock?"

Baird fumbled with his utility belt for a moment as if he was on the verge of saying something, or was going to say something, but for the life of him, he knew she brought up a pretty valid point.

"…but, if it's that important for you to know, then allow me to quote a common Feral proverb," she continued.

"And that would be?"

"Just because a man has a big gun, doesn't necessarily improve his aim."


Chapter 10: Falling Under Edit

Don't want your hand this time - I'll save myself.

Maybe I'll wake up for once.

Not tormented daily, defeated by you.

Just when I thought I'd reached the bottom…


…I'm dying again.

I'm going under. [6]


-Evanescence-


"I need you to fill out the following sign-in sheet before removing any equipment from the bus barn…"

…a middle-age woman reported from behind the counter at the I.T. office as she placed a piece of paper on the countertop in front of Raven.

"Wait, I thought you kept your equipment here at office storage?" Raven protested, "…and why am I being subjected to filling out paperwork?"

"Ma'am, command had all specialized equipment moved out into the bus barn due to remodeling. All personnel are required to fill out a form before they can access any tools and equipment."

"So I have to go all the way to the bus barn to get this stuff?"

"Yes ma'am."

"That's clear on the other side of base!" Raven growled.

"Ma'am, I need your list and signature before you go and remove any equipment from the barn."

The monotone coming from the woman behind the counter was irking her even more as she rummaged through the pen cup, and then began to scribble each one on a blank postie-note, trying to find a pen that could actually write. After tossing the fourth, inkless pen to the side, she finally finds one that wasn't dried up…shit, about time!

Writing down her name and the list of things she needed as fast as she could, irate that she was having to re-write this list for the third time, the second being when Damon got her notebook wet and she had to re-write the list while driving in the bumpy, rickety Brahma, Raven filled out the form. Scribbling her unreadable signature at the bottom, she slapped the paper back down on the counter for the woman to process in her computer.

"Here is your clearance pass that you will need to into the west gate," the woman informed her in monotone…Oh yay…I get a hall pass!

"Is there anything else I need to do before I drive all the way to the west gate?" Raven asked, hoping that she has all her ducts in a row before even contemplating having to sit and ride in the stench, ridden, rickety Brahma with Baird driving, again…I'm really beginning to hate riding in that shitpiece truck!

"Just present that pass to security and they should let you in."

Gathering up her duffle bag, Raven turned to the woman,

"Also, is there a scrap yard anywhere…preferably one that specializes in motorbikes?"

The woman looked up from her computer and glared at weary Raven, her head resting on her hand being propped on her arm on the countertop.

"You can try Rusty's…he's just outside of base on Yales Road," the woman said as if she was somewhat attempting to be helpful but the drab tone in her voice suggested otherwise.

"Th, thanks," Raven mumbled hesitantly before limping out of the office with her duffle bag yanking on her left shoulder.




Leaning on the right fender of the massive Brahma, Baird let out a yawn, waiting for Raven to come staggering out from headquarters. Taking one step at a time down a steep flight of stairs in bare feet, Raven finally made it to where Baird had parked the truck, leaning against the Brahma with his legs crossed and his arms folded against his chest. He could immediately tell by Raven's frumpy scowl that something was not all well in paradise.

"Get in the truck Damon. We need to drive over to the bus barn," she snapped as she grabbed the handle to the passenger door, yanking it open.

"The bus barn? What the hell for?" he had to ask.

"That's where they have all of their tools Baird!" she growled before throwing her duffle bag onto the floor and climbed in, literally. Baird watched her, trying to pull herself into the seat as she struggled at first, while keeping the skirt of her dress from hiking up. Finally settling into the musty, vinyl seat that was cracking from age and wear, she reached over to pull on the door handle and yanked it shut.

Ah hell…Baird grumbled to himself, reaching into his pocket for his keys before walking around the truck and over to the driver side door.

"Well I got some news for you Rav…"

"For fuck's sake, what else can possibly delay me from getting this shit started?"

"Hey look, I have to follow orders…although yea, most of the time it's grudgingly, but still, I don't need another report on my extensive list of reprimands."

Raven's facial expression flared into a flaming scowl. Damon cringed slightly as he slipped the key into the ignition, knowing that fireballs were going to be coming his way, but it wasn't something he hadn't dealt with before. He didn't blame Raven for being pissed off; in fact, he saw it coming the moment he was put on assignment, but like every other calamity he's faced in his military career, he has long expected that anything and everything can go wrong at anytime. Whether Raven has accepted this fact of life, he couldn't confirm, but he also knew that she was adamantly stubborn and refused to bend for anyone or anything, even when things went terribly wrong.

Sitting cross-legged while facing forward with a fuming glare, Raven gritted her teeth.

"So what did old man Hoffman tell you to do now?" she calmly growled.

"We have to have a security escort to the supply barn."

"…and that means what to me?"

"That you can't get into it without someone from security personnel to be present."

"…and why do we have to have an escort?"

"They're beefing up security after several incidents of theft from some of our supply warehouses."

Turning the ignition, Baird paused for a moment, cranking the tired engine as it sputtered a few times. Occasionally revving the engine as it choked one last time, the shimmies began to subside once the engine stabilized.

Raven's expression beamed in interest as her malcontent subsided for a moment.

"Wait…theft?" You guys have been raided?"

"Several times apparently. They took some tools, a bunch of vehicle maintenance supplies, and the all the fucking toilet paper."

"So…the bathrooms are not going to have toilet paper for too much longer I take it…"

"Yep. I did the calculations…our supply will dwindle out in another week."

Shifting the Brahma into reverse, Baird reached over to grab and anchor himself to the head of Raven's seat as he peered behind through the back windshield, carefully pulling the vehicle out of the parking spot after on-coming traffic was clear.

"..and how long ago was this?"

While still keeping his vision facing the back as he pulled the Brahma out, he answered her.

"Last time they raided one of our storage facilities as about a week ago."

Whipping back around to face the front, Baird shifted the stick into drive as the Brahma abruptly jumped forward, before the automatic transmission finally shifted into drive.

"Gah, piece of shit…" Baird growled as he turned the steering wheel to straighten the truck out as it began to move out onto the next lane, "…anyway, the COG is taking extra precautions by placing squad units along the storage housing that are located just outside of base. We can reach one of the personnel from there…no special trip will be necessary."

"Good," Raven said abruptly as she leaned back into her seat, her gaze fixed on the outside of her passenger side window, watching the scenery form the comfort of her musty, vinyl seat inside a rickety truck that was two decades from obsolete. Baird would take a glance at her every now and then while she continued to look out her window without saying another word.

Although he would shudder concerning her sour demeanor, he really didn't blame her either. Her arm was still riddled with minor scratches from the suicide-bombing incident a few days back, not to mention the grotesque scab on her right elbow, which reminded Baird of the soon to be, political repercussions that were to follow. It was already brewing, like a virus; Prescott has been diligently keeping the public informed concerning the COG's resolve in the matter, however, the response has been estranged amongst the populous. Ungrateful bigots.

Nevertheless, Baird finally shrugged it off for the time being and directed his focus to the road, heading to the other side of Vectus Navel base.




Vectus Navel Base Mortuary…

Down the steps into the underground chasm that resided under the Vectus Hospital, was the base' primary mortuary, to which the Gears have long called the crypt. Hoffman paced himself as he followed the tier of stairs while hanging on to the metal rail that ran along the concrete wall. He was not in a rush to confirm the recently released ten deceased civilians from the events a few days before, only recently bringing that number to twelve when a few more civilians passed away that same morning at the infirmary from the injuries they sustained from the suicide bombing. Thoughts ran insistently though his head on how he was going to address the populous concerning the burial of the twelve; perhaps even a few more, depending on the rest that were still under critical.

Meandering through a hallway that was supported by mortar and red brick, Hoffman followed the metal signs bolted to the wall to locate the mortician's station, near the underbelly of the beating heart of Vectus Hospital. Ironically, it was this place where many a patient would receive their resolve, the final act in their life story, all pieced together right here on the mortician's table, whether it be for embalming, or an autopsy.

Coming into the main room, the mortician was standing over his worktable, preparing a corpse as Hoffman passed through the plastic curtain that separated the refrigeration chamber from the embalming room. The doctor was a lanky man with tattered black hair; probably dry from the constant exposure to refrigeration in the next chamber. He was rather slender in build, contrasted by his apron that was tied around his body, while his facial expression was calm and poised, working with his hands as a painter would work with brushes. He was definitely an artist in this trade.

The lines that meandered his face suggested that he was at least forty years of age, perhaps fifty, but his dark hair suggested that he hadn't hit his golden years just yet. Like so many of the other Gears, his face was stubble with black hairs, while a patch of whiskers remained on the bottom of his chin. His black rimmed glasses that sat snug on his ice pale skin only reinforced his dark features; if Hoffman didn't know better, he was starting to look more like the rest of the corpses he embalmed.

"Hello Peter…you got a minute?"

The mortician looked up from his work, giving the Colonel a rather sinister, smug grin. It wasn't that the man was an evil incarnate of Hades, he was just eccentric, considering this was a guy whom hung around dead people all the time and was in constant exposure to formaldehyde.

"Greetings Colonel. I figured you be coming back down here…I'll admit, I've had some rather tough customers," said the doctor in a composed, callous voice.

"I take it most of them are going to be closed caskets?"

"…and then some," the doctor reiterated with a strange sense of ease.

"Well Sergeant Ramses, I'm sure you'll do a commendable job when my day comes to lay on your work table…you could make me the most prettiest bastard this side of Sera."

The doctor could only chuckle at Hoffman's dry humor, something that a man of his caliber could appreciate, and Hoffman knew it. Victor Hoffman always felt at ease in the late Sergeant Peter Ramses' presence, as if he could tell the man anything, especially since it was only a matter of time before this same man would tell how much he drank by just looking his bare liver and holding it in his hands. He was a man of talents that Victor could only envy.

Sergeant Peter Ramses was a man of unconventional means, but was probably the most proficient pathologist and field medic Hoffman has ever known. Although he served several tours during his military obligations, it was soon discovered that his talents were better suited in mortuary science and forensic pathology. It was Dr. Ramses, the then Sergeant, whom did the original autopsy on the field with a Berserker cadaver, making the discovery that they were in fact female, as well as literally blind, and for the most, impenetrable to majority of the COG armaments.

Only lately has the doctor been subjected into the mortuary full-time, continuing the usual routine of autopsies and embalming, as well as acting as the head serologist. It was a profession that would never go out of necessity, as long as the human race continued to exist…someone is always ready and waiting to die.

Taking a moment to cough, Ramses removed his latex gloves and tosses them into the nearby bio-can. Shortly after taking another moment to cover his mouth before he let out another, gurgling cough, he takes his black-rimmed glasses to ogle the Colonel with his dark, deep-set eyes, peering from under his protruding brow.

"I take it you're here for our most, recent addition…" Ramses began in a rasping voice.

"Actually, I came to see if you have an update with, our…"

"…crown jewel?" the doctor mused before Hoffman could finish. The Colonel could only let out a half-hearted chuckle,

"…more like a black, diamond in the rough."

"Ah, I see," said Ramses while untying his apron, "…well then I guess you're here for the test results, yes?"

"I was under the impression that you wouldn't have it ready for another week?"

"I can have it ready in a few days…DNA analysis is not as complicated as one would think, however, I do have something that may be of interest to you."

Hoffman's expression suddenly beamed in interest.

"What else could you have possibly uncovered in the corpse, Pete?"

Bending over as he opened up a drawer from the stainless-steel cabinet, Ramses reached into the drawer to remove a labeled plastic bag, and then placed it onto the table.

Hoffman kept his poise in the faintly illuminating room, as he watched the doctor look at him, carefully opening the bag. Between the cool, crisp air and the stench of formaldehyde, the morgue was an eerie place, which doesn't' account for the fact that the chamber next door was a storage for human remains.

Ramses let out another cough before composing himself as he lifted the plastic bag for Hoffman to see.

"As I was removing the COG transmitter, which as you know, was tagged and inserted in every able bodied Gear since the later years before E-day, I went ahead and opened the contents into the stomach," said Ramses as he reached into the bag, pulling out an inch long memory card, "…apparently, he managed to ingest this into his system before meeting his demise."

"Well I'll be damned…" Hoffman watched in awe as he picked up the memory card to get a better look at it.

"I…have not viewed the contents, nor did I check to see if could still be read…"

"Does anyone else know about it?"

Ramses could only smile, his teeth brimming under the faint blue light from the fluorescents above.

"Of course not. The only people that ever come to visit me is you…and occasionally the field medic, Grimes; but he only comes around for the coffee," said Ramses as he closed up the bag to toss it in the trashcan.

"It would seem, Sergeant, that my sins have come back to visit me…" Hoffman paused for a moment, noticing Ramses gaze burrowing into his own, as if the doctor could see into the windows of his soul.

"And is it Morose that reminds you of that…or is it Miss Eloise?"

The dark, raspy tone coming from the doctor brought Hoffman into a state of acceptance, reminiscing the turmoil that brought both of the fore mentioned into Hoffman's lap. Hoffman let out a slight chuckle, still gazing at the memory card.

"Shortly before Jonathan was killed, he asked me to watch over Marion and Ellie…and what did I do? I let Ellie runaway from home and had Marion put into custody to keep the fertility probation officer from interrogating her."

"…and everyone expected you to hold a teacup in one hand while holding an umbrella with the other, balancing on a ball…all the while, a race of beings came knocking on your door, who's sole intent was to wipe humanity off the planet by whatever means necessary."

"…and then we unleashed hell all over the face of Sera with that goddamned Hammer of Dawn!"

"Are you still blaming yourself for what happened in Glacier Valley, Victor?"

"There are a lot of things that I still don't know for certain, Pete. I don't even know why I'm asking for a forensic DNA analysis on a man who was so intent on having me brought down to his level, he didn't hesitate to rip every man and woman who stood in his way!"

"You're just being thorough Colonel, as always," Ramses could only assure him. For the obvious reasons, both men shared the same Achilles heel. They knew too much, but not enough to warrant their death. They knew more classified information than either cared to know, and loathed having the responsibility to keep it where it laid. It was a thorn that would agitate when the occasion arose.

"Why do you insist on keeping this corpse on ice, Vic?" Ramses had to finally ask, knowing that the body that was once known as the late Sergeant Milliardo Morose, has been sitting in the mortuary for over two months now, stiff and forever preserved from the detailed embalming Ramses was instructed by Hoffman to do. Although the ribs in his chest were impaled with his genitals removed and his head severed, the resourceful doctor was still able to reattach his head and remove his fluids without a single stitch or puncture. The man was an artist when it came to mummification.

"He knew something Pete," Hoffman muttered bitterly, "…he uncovered something that nobody was supposed to know."

"Well, with much of the archives now lost after the fall of Jacinto, what are you hoping to find now, Vic?"

"A connection maybe. Shit, if I knew what it was, I would have been a lot more specific than having you go through all the routine motions."

"You think I do not enjoy a challenge, Colonel?"

"Of course I know you do, Pete, that's why I asked you to do it…that, and I know that you're the last person anyone else here would even remotely be considered conspicuous."

"Hehe, indeed so Colonel."

Stuffing the memory card into his belt pack, the Colonel saluted Ramses.

"I'll get back with you in a few days Pete. In the meantime, I'm going to rummage through old memories."

"Be careful, Vic," Ramses reminded Hoffman.

"Yea, Pete. I'm all about being careful."



Pulling up along the security booth at checkpoint, Baird put the Brahma into park while he left the engine running, waiting for one of the guards to walk up to the driver side window. He manually rolled down the window, turning the stubborn lever with exertion; shit, another thing of a list of things I need to fix on this jalopy.

After he managed to roll the window completely down, a Gear in the newer COG-issued armor, walked up to the side of the truck.

"Hello sir. I take it you need to get to storage?"

"The bus barn actually."

The Gear leaned back to turn his gaze forward, placing his hand over his eyes to look at several buildings not too far ahead of them.

"Alright sir, you can just leave the truck here and we can get you escorted to the bus barn."

"I can leave it here?"

"Yes sir."

Well that'll be convenient instead of having to park it out on the lot. Sweet.

Raven leaned over as she caught a glimpse of the Gear.

"Are we going on foot?" she asked over the noise of the rumbling Brahma.

"Yes ma'am. It's not far…just up ahead, behind those building there…" the Gear elaborated as he pointed into the direction of the metal buildings ahead.

Baird turned to Raven whom was somewhat annoyed with the fact she was going to have to commute on foot, again.

"C'mon Rav…let's just get out, get what we need so we can finally get the diagnostic started."

"Sigh…fine," she grumbled before gathering her duffel bag and placing it over her shoulder.

Opening the creaky, passenger side door, Raven quickly slipped into her high-heel shoes before exiting the truck. Baird was already out, stretching his arms up over his head while letting out a big yawn. Shuffling his air-dried hair, he reached over to the edge of the door and slammed it closed. He could hear Raven shutting the door to her side of the truck, all the while, staggering carefully as she tried to balance on her shoes with her duffel bag leaning her shoulder on one side. Baird couldn't help but to find the whole thing amusing, watching Raven teetering around the Brahma, occasionally using the massive vehicle to help her keep balance. Letting out a sigh, he approached her with his hands free and dangling at his side.

"You need help with that Rav?"

Grazing the fender of the Brahma before finally approaching him, she replied,

"No, I got it," she responded before dropping the bag onto the ground next to her.

Despite that she was obviously having trouble, Baird let it go for the time being as a couple of Gears approach them.

"This is Private Farlene. He'll be the one to escort you to the barn."

"Sure," Raven mumbled, still rummaging in her bag for her other pair of shoes, which for the moment was eluding her, "…damnit, I thought I put them in here."

"Put what in there?" Baird asked bluntly.

"Another pair of shoes. Something more forgiving for walking in."

"What's wrong with your dress shoes…especially since you're wearing a dress?"

Raven just looked up to give Baird a dirty glare.

"Look, can you just wear your heels; we need to get going," Baird stammered at a groaning Raven.

"Fuck these heels," Raven growled as she picked up her bag, throwing it over her shoulder, "...let's go gentlemen," she ordered as she started to walk away.

Farlene subtly cleared his throat while Baird raised his hands in exasperation,

"Unbelievable…" he mumbled to himself as he and Farlene followed Raven.

"Um, does she know where to go?" Farlene subtly asked Baird.

"Pfft, how the hell should I know? Just…c'mon, she's not getting too far ahead in those shoes," said Baird. They both moved ahead, closing in the ten yard lead Raven had already established.

"Hey Rav, wait up, shit," Baird yelled out. Although Raven kept going, she did slow down after looking over her shoulder for a moment to see if the other two were catching up.

"Ok, can we…just wait for a minute…" Baird pleaded again.

"For what?"

Raven stopped as she dropped her tool bag, and then bent over while trying to keep her legs together to avoid showing the world her undercarriage, pulling up her foot and unstrapping the high-heeled shoe from her aching foot.

"C'mon, damnit…" she growled before finally yanking it off and tossing it to the side. She was really contemplating just throwing the damn things into a nearby trashcan.

Baird let out a sigh, watching her taking off the other shoe in frustration,

"You need some help there, Rav?"

"No, I…almost got it.." she exclaimed before yanking off the other shoe and chunking it to the ground before standing back up and letting out a huff, "…fucking high-heels…whoever had the bright idea of inventing those damn things should be publicly flogged!"

It had not even been a full day and already Baird was getting tired of listening to her bitch. Without even giving Raven a moment to compose herself, Baird reached over to pick up her duffel bag and hung it over his bulky shoulder. Before Raven could even protest, he proceeded to pick up her shoes that she threw to the ground. Raven was able to stand erect once more without the weight of the bag pulling on her sensitive shoulder that was getting sore from carrying it for too long.

Collecting her platform shoes, Baird made his way back to Raven, whom was even more in a foul mood than she was earlier that morning,

"So, are we ready now?" he nagged.

There really wasn't anything stopping her at this point to slug him in the mouth, but between her already aching shoulder, her sore elbow, her sore legs and feet, Raven wasn't in the condition to be getting into any brawl, much less getting into a fight with Baird over something as trivial as allowing him to carry her stuff. I am so ready to have my armor and boots back when the Breeders get done fixing them for me, she moaned to herself.

"Sure," she grumbled. Turning around quickly, she continued forward to the bus barn as fast as her bare feet could take her, "…I want to get that diagnostic started today so we can address the software issue first thing tomorrow."

"Ok…although you do realize that troubleshooting the console is going to be bitch, so there's not really a good chance we'll get it done today…" Baird elaborated.

"Yea, no thanks to you, and this stupid new COG protocol I'm having to deal with!"

"Ya know, I would figure after surviving that bombing incident, you'd be more understanding about the new security protocol…"

"Oh, I understand alright. I also understand that I have not only, diplomatic immunity, but I also have free roam of the base and supposedly free access to whatever instruments I need until when, and if, this whole thing gets resolved, and only when it is resolved is when I can return to Retreat to take care of some other matters before Captain, sit-on-my-face Miller fucks it up even more than it already was before I left!"

"Wait, Hoffman put Miller in charge at the Feral reservation?" both Baird and Farlene looked up in interest.

"Unfortunately…and then I lost my bodyguard, Sergeant Lucius lug-nuts, Jacquin, not that I'm incredibly disappointed about that, but then again that gave Hoffman special liberties to assign whomever he wanted to baby-sit me!""

"So you're saying Hoffman assigned me to baby-sit you?"

"Not entirely, which is why I didn't protest when he told me about it…so now I get to tote you around to hopefully, maybe help me cut my time in half, than it would have if I just done it by myself."

"Toting…oh, so now I'm your fucking handbag? The hell Rav…oh, wait…or did you specifically putting in a request for my expertise?" Baird started to poke at her, hoping to get her to finally say it…c'mon, just say you need my help.

"Don't get ahead of yourself Damon, I was just keeping my options open…" she replied, keeping things still in her perspective before giving Baird any benefit of the doubt, or else it would only encourage him to bug her constantly about it, "…and besides, you said so yourself, the monkeys at the I.T. dept is a joke and I'll be damned if I ever have to work with one of them!"

"Oh no…don't even try to nullify my statement, Rav…just come out and say it! You need me because I'm the only person within a hundred mile radius you can depend on to fix your little problem…"

By now Baird was walking along Raven while Farlene moved ahead of them, leading them to the bus barn as he eavesdropped onto their little skirmish of a conversation.

"The network is anything but a little problem, Damon…it's supposed to…"

"…yea, yea, to keep communications between the reservation and COG headquarters, for a better means of establishing international relations, I get it," Baird soon interrupted before Raven could finish, "…consequently yanking me from my other job, which was updating the sonar on the Clement by the way, and putting me here to set up another way to hack into the COG central grid."

"Excuse me, but do I need to remind you the level of importance this is to the COG?" Raven sneered at Baird's sarcasm.

"Oh c'mon, you could care less about Feral/COG negotiations. You're only doing this just as an excuse to keep your job, which gives you immunity from your breeding obligations…"

"Alright, that's it! We're done here," Raven snorted as she picked up the pace, trying to distance herself away from Baird to avoid listening to anything else that he would have added in that would rub her the wrong way, even if it was pretty close to the truth; she didn't want to hear it. Not now.

"Are we close to the bus barn, soldier?" Raven abruptly asked Farlene.

"Just ahead ma'am…next to that parking lot," he pointed towards the concrete layout ahead.

Realizing he just hit a nerve, Baird backed off, knowing that it would only be a matter of time, ritualistically picking her head before her mannerisms would just give her intentions away. The only thing that still eluded him while trying to get into her head was the fact that she still kept some encoding sequences she used to break into the system.

"Oh I get it…the moment I get a little ahead, you drop the conversation like was yesterday's news…"

Raven just ignored Baird as he continued on, knowing full well that she could hear him, but was intent on just keeping the topic mute.

The bus barn was finally in sight, just a few more yards as they approach the bus parking lot next to a large metal building that apparently was once used for bus maintenance. Now, it was a temporary storage building for the I.T. department when they made arrangements to remodel the base.

"I know you can hear me Rav," Baird carried on, only creeping further and further into getting under her skin, "…which says to me that I was right!"

Raven continued to walk ahead of the two before she stepped onto the scorching concrete in her already tender bare feet. Raven suddenly shrieked before tip toeing on the scorching pavement.

"Shit, shit…it's hot…" she squirmed the moment her feet hit the pavement. Baird and Farlene moved up quickly onto the parking lot where Raven was dancing as if she was walking on hot coals. Baird suddenly stopped his ranting for the moment before finding amusement in Raven's dilemma; oh yea, she's gonna need my help now.

"Hold on Rav…I got your shoes," Baird yelled out before approaching her, keeping comments to a minimum before finally reaching her with her dress shoes in hand.

"Quick! Just put them on the ground," she cringed. Kneeling down, he places her duffel bag on the ground and finally placed her high heeled-shoes onto the ground. Without further delay, Raven quickly slipped into them while trying to maintain balance at the same time. Not taking a moment to even strap them, Raven picked up the duffel bag over her shoulder and proceeded on.

"Hurry up guys, I have things to do and places to be!" she barked.

"Yes, we know that Rav, but you're going to have to…"

"…have to what, Damon? What part about move your ass do you not understand?"

"Look, you're not going to get the diagnostic done today; it's just not happening, so why don't you hold your damn horses..."

"And why not?"

"Have you seen the console they're using, Rav? That dinosaur is so ridiculously obsolete, your not going to get the same kind of speed you would normally get from the sixty-four bit processor…"

"Yes I can Damon…you just watch me!"

"Not without a spare laptop, you won't."

"Laptop? You didn't say anything about setting up a separate, external station to access the console!"

"The console's browser isn't working, however you can access it by setting up a direct network to another computer to access the main hard drive. Besides, I didn't think I had to tell you…in fact, I don't even know why I'm obligated to tell you anything at all, with the exception of your curfew."

"Curfew? What the fuck is this, high school?"

"If you want to access the commands central mainframe, then you're going to need me to access it's security clearance…and yes, the Colonel has specifically assigned you a curfew."

"That rotten old ass may be able to keep tabs on me, but he can't keep me from accessing the main grid...that's if they're still using the same firewall I managed to tear down that last time I infiltrated command's mainframe, then it won't take long to hack into it again!"

He threw up his arms in exasperation, while Farlene just kept to himself, keeping quiet and listening to the two bicker back and forth, something he found a hell of a lot more entertaining than parading along the boondocks during guard duty. Command had him reassigned when they heightening their security, due to the recent theft and suicide bombings from earlier that week.

"Ok, yea, you can probably get past the firewall, knowing the proficiency of the I.T. department, which is laughable at best, but you still need security access to get into the files."

"Fine, then give me those access codes."

"When we set up a station, I'll type them in for you."

"Holy shit Damon, you really don't trust me do you!"

"No more than the kind of trust you give me, Rav. Besides, you just said it yourself; you can still hack into the central mainframe without difficulty. Is it any wonder why Hoffman has someone babysitting you all the time. Old habits die hard, eh?"

"Like you should be talking!"

"Yea, and you haven't changed a bit either, Rav…well, except your wardrobe has been an improvement."

"That's besides the point, " Raven growled as she came to a stand-still while Farlene walked up to the bus barn entrance with key in hand, "…and where is that smell coming from?"

"What smell?" Baird began to sniff around, oblivious to what Raven was eluding to.

"It smells like, coalite…y'know, the kind you…can…"

Silence soon fell on Raven as she held her breath for a moment, coming to some realization before Farlene reached to turn the doorknob. Baird glanced at her for a moment while the signals hit his brain fast and hard. Watching Raven's eyes widen and her face pale, Baird has earned to pick up on her most subliminal expressions since their excursion in Glacier Valley. He long trusted Raven's developed, heightened instincts; an ability that complimented her skill to survive as a Feral, picking up on even the most infinitesimal hints of things that wasn't right in the mix. This was certainly one of those moments as he whisked his head to glance at the door; all the while Farlene jerked the door to pull it open. It was too late.

"GET DOWN…" he blurted out within what only took, not even a second, that seemed like an eternity as he acted out of impulse, quickly throwing himself against Raven and tackling her away from the door before calamity struck.

Just like a sudden thunderclap, the rapid explosion shimmied the immediate vicinity, breaking the sound barrier shortly after the door jolted from the unsuspecting Privates' hand. Shards of burning debris scattered to one side of the area, blasting past the door frame, tossing the folded metal door, causing the entire chassis of what was supposed to be a door frame, now a smoldering, massive hole in the metal wall of the building, bleeding with fire and smoke.

Glass rained everywhere, falling like rain all around them, as Baird slowly looked up, peering past the smoke and dust haze that hovered around them. His head was throbbing, trying to make out what had just thrown him ten feet in the air, landing on the course concrete slab, but his ears were still ringing, his drums clamped tight from the sudden noise that shook his body. With his hands still shaking, he looked behind from where he lay and got a glimpse of what was left of Private Farlene…agh, damn.

Baird could barely make out the Private, realizing the poor guy wasn't in one piece, that much was for certain. It was a sight he hadn't seen in months, but it seemed like it was only yesterday when he could take in the sight of someone's charred or shredded remains, but this one time, a sudden chill rippled down his back as a thought suddenly came to the surface, unexpectedly pushing everything else out of center. The stench of smoke that was making him gag, the iron taste of his own blood, sweltering in his mouth, or the dust cloud making his eyes water profusely, none of it mattered now as he frantically turned back around to search for that which suddenly became foremost on his conscience.

Oh shit, Rav…


Chapter 11: Picking Up The Pieces Edit

The future teaches you to be alone, the present to be afraid and cold.

So if I can shoot rabbits, then I can shoot fascists.


Bullets for your brain today, but we'll forget it all again.

Monuments put from pen to paper, turns me into a gutless wonder.


And if you tolerate this, then your children will be next. [7]


Manic Street Preachers

Earlier today, a Gorasni, military convoy fell victim to a roadside bombing along loop 60, just thirty miles outside of Pelruan. So far, there are six casualties out of the eight that were in the vehicle, while the other two are in critical condition.

As of now, no arrests have been made, although some of the Gorasni suspect that some Stranded revolutionists may be involved, perhaps the same one's that were responsible for a suicide bombing that occurred at the East gate at Vectus Navel base earlier this week. As of now, the Gorasni are only seeking persons of interest that could have some insight as to whom was responsible for this malicious attack, however, there is little doubt that this was meant to hinder dialogue between the Gorasni and the COG.

And just in, another bombing has taken place at a COG storage facility this afternoon, just outside of Vectus Navel Base. It is unknown if there are any casualties at this time, however, emergency personnel are on the scene trying to quash the flames that are still burning as a result of the ignition to the entryway of the storage facility. Details will be released as we continue to follow this story.

Valerie Salle, Vectus News

Trauma ward, Vectus Emergency wing...

Voices were still muffled under the ringing still prominent in Baird's ears. He would occasionally catch a glance of the nursing staff running around his gurney, while entrapped in a neck brace and strapped down along the support bars of his makeshift bedding, the ambulance staff stuffed him into as a precaution. Despite lying on an incline on the gurney, surrounded by tubes, monitors, and lots of gauze, his head was definitely throbbing, and the light coming from the fluorescents above just made it worse. Shit, just turn the damn light off.

He turned his head as far as the neck brace would allow to avoid the burdensome lighting, but all he could see was a gray curtain that separated him from whomever was on the other side, which he could only assume was Raven, judging by the rambling he could somewhat make out that was coming from the other side.

Before they were found, Baird was able to barely crawl his way over to her, despite the cuts and gashes that littered his arms and face. She was lying on her stomach, not far from him, bleeding from her upper thigh. Looking up over her, he saw pieces of shrapnel mangled into her dress.

For a moment, he was scared. He always thought the worst when it came to things like this, but when he saw Raven, lying still with pieces of shrapnel entangled in her clothes and the blood that was seeping down her leg, he was terrified. All he could do was reach over, trembling in the process, trying to get her to respond to him somehow, despite being temporarily deaf. It took him awhile to crawl around her, to look for her face, which was burrowed under her arms. It wasn't long before he caught a glimpse of her wide, icy blue gaze, glaring from underneath her arm. It was then she started to shake.

Her expression was all he could see when he found her, alive. Lying in his gurney, he envisioned that frightened look on her face, her bleeding body, the way she was shaking, breathing, coughing; he couldn't shake the pictures from his throbbing head, until it started to hurt once again. The only thing he could think of next, was morphine.

"I need morphine please…my fucking head hurts," he yelled out in a course voice over the insistent ringing in his ears.

Over whatever muffled sounds he was able to receive, another series of profanities could be heard, but it wasn't coming from him this time. A nurse opened the curtain for a moment, giving Baird just enough time to catch a glimpse of the person next to him, and sure enough it was Raven. He was able to see her disheveled black hair, framing her grimy and bloody face. With her wrists strapped down, she arched her back as she cursed insistently, lifting her head slightly, cringing.

"GODDAMNIT…GET THIS SHIT OUT OF ME, NOW," he watched her, what appeared to be screaming, judging by the tension in her neck and jaw. Yea, she's really pissed!

The nurses had already removed her dress, covering her bare body with several hospital sheets as the blood soaked through the fabric. He could see one of her bare arms, caked in dust, dried blood, and what looked like bruising. Between the dirt and the dark, crimson paste, he couldn't accurately tell what was what. One thing's for sure...she's in pain.

"FUCK…GET THIS SHRAPNEL OUT! GET ME OUT OF THESE FUCKING STRAPS," she screamed again.

With a canola connector already embedded in her arm and hooked up to an I.V., the nurse was quick to inject something into the connector; a sedative I guess; or maybe even morphine, just to get her to shut up!

Wiggling under the restraints, Raven fought in vain, still blurting out expletives as she clenched her teeth from the nurses trying to calm her down. Baird watched her struggle in her gurney as her words slowly began to slur. The volume in her course voice trailed off into murmurs before her body stopped squirming and began to relax. Finally leaning her head back onto her headrest, her glazed eyes fell under the lids. Yea, they gave her a sedative.

Baird watched her slip away, succumbing to the drug before a nurse pulled the curtain back, and all Baird could see now was the gray, vinyl fabric that separated him from Raven. It took him a moment before he realized that his head wasn't throbbing anymore. He turned over to look at a nurse whom was taping his I.V. connector to his arm. She must have just administered something for my pain, he thought. As his eyes wrestled to stay open, he realized he couldn't feel the aching in his hand and elbow, or the obnoxious itching that ran down his hip. His eyes were soon fixed to the clock on the wall across from him, watching the red hand move second after second, until he lost track of it, and then the blinding, excruciating light, coming from the florescent bulbs above, faded to black.


Walking vigorously down the hall of the second floor of central command, Hoffman was short of fuming after receiving word of the bombing incident at one of their storage facilities just outside of base. The bombing not only killed one of their men and nearly took out one of their better tech heads, this was the second time within a week that the Feral consulate was in near mortal peril, and this fact was not going to settle well with the Council of Matriarchs, at all.

Moving past the doorway into the comm. room, Hoffman was quick to scan the vicinity while Lieutenant Mathieson sat idle in his chair, keeping his eyes fixed on the console and listening on the squawk through his earpiece at the same time.

"What's the news, Lieutenant?" Hoffman asked forcefully.

"The staff just received two patients…COG ID, 638941…and that would be…Sergeant, I mean Corporal, Damon Baird. Sorry sir, they haven't updated the system since the Corporal was…um…"

"Demoted, yes, I know Lieutenant! Is he alive?"

"Yes."

"Anyone else?"

"COG ID 699341…Private, Nicholas Farlene…is deceased."

Closing his eyes, Hoffman could feel a burning sensation spreading along the valleys of lines that meandered his hardened face. Scenarios were racing through his mind, contingencies coming to picture as he tried to suppress them, but after years of literally living and breathing warfare in the most intimate sense, Victor's sense of repose has since then been sour.

Taking a deep breath, he searched for the words that he was searing to say while at the same time, trying to keep his composure.

"…and the Feral Consulate?"

"COG ID 460, dash 81…Eloise "Raven" McNight…is being transferred to trauma."

"Son of a bitch…" Hoffman muttered, removing his hat to feel a great wave of relief that swept over him like a sudden gust of strong wind. The immediate news of McNights' condition was an unprecedented valor that Victor wasn't going to take lightly. I'm going to have a long talk with the Corporal when he's released from trauma.

"Mathieson…"

"Yes sir,"

"Is the recent census in the database yet?"

"Some of it has been updated, except for conscripts stationed in Retreat. "

"Get Stroud up here. I need to get a look on who we have left."

"Affirmative sir."

"I need to get ahead of this before the Council of Matriarchs get word of another, possible assassination attempt on their diplomat."

"Do you believe that the bombing was intended for the Feral Consulate, Colonel?"

"I always start with a worst case scenario Mathieson…and then trickle down from there."

"But how do you intend to find out about who's setting up these bombings?"

"I may still have another card up my sleeve yet Lieutenant. I'm just not sure if I want to play it just yet."

"What would be the downside to playing your last card when you have nothing else to lose?"

"There's always something to lose, son…there's always somebody's ass I'm going to end up covering; the question is whether it's worth the price I've paid, or not."


COG outpost, 452; Feral Reservation, just outside of Retreat...

It was a sober thought, having the COG bringing the remnants of what was left of humanity, diverse in their own ways, some being old enemies, or new one's, all under the same flag of truce, or amnesty, playing some make believe vision of what one may call peace, but it was anyone's guess on which version one wanted to believe.

For the time being, the Feral fell into place as if nothing ever happened, soon to delve into their own means of reliance on one of the most under-developed, pieces of land on the island. It was one of the reasons the COG chose this portion outside of the small town, known as Retreat, to give the Feral their own means of civilization, while providing some diplomacy under COG jurisdiction by placing a headquarters between the reservation and Retreat.

Although the rolling land was essentially useless for farming, due to the extreme heat, the fields had plentiful patches of alfalfa which made it perfect for grazing. Therefore the Feral took their goats and sheep to the fields that were surrounded by thick forests, towered by the massive redwood trees. The old volcanic soil made the mature fruit trees lush, plentiful in fruit, berries, and nuts.

It didn't take long for the Feral to build tents as a temporary means of shelter, and reservoirs for their goats and horses. It was business as usual, managing the infants, children, and expecting mothers, while the "soldiers" of the clans, whom they called "shield maidens," continued their regiments, orienting the younger girls to their art of guerrilla combat and their form of martial arts.

Although most of the weapons have been long confiscated, the Feral were allowed to keep and make their own cutlery, especially since they insisted on their own means of defense, which they took very personally. This was the one thing the Chairman had to come to some compromise with the Reverend Mother, to allow the Feral keep and practice their own philosophies concerning their combat ethos.

Captain Miller kept his gaze out into the reservation from the outpost watchtower, observing the young girls doing their afternoon drills, working on fighting stances and other techniques, under the instruction of one of the Matriarchs of the present Feral Council.

The woman was called Nabor, and she was a veteran warhorse of sorts, with a rigid muscular figure and cropped graying hair. The woman didn't have a single layer of fat on her, which explained her lean, cut musculature, while at the same time, her age could be just as easily seen. Miller had watched her in the early hours of the morning, observing her reconditioning her joints and ligaments that would crack and creak from the wears and tears of a seemingly violent life.

Wearing only a thin under-suit that just barely covered her lady parts, Miller could see the ornate scarification that was littered all over her back, while other battle scars could be visible on other parts of her body, including one long line that ran from the crown of her head to her eyebrow. The valleys that meandered her facial expressions suggested she may be at least fifty years of age, but with the Feral, it's been hard to tell their exact age. For all he knew, she could be seventy.

She was slightly taller, compared to many of the other Feral, being five foot, ten, while five foot, six was the average height. The tallest Feral of the clan was six foot, four, and almost every Gear stationed knew that Feral, whom went by the name of Teirre.' No one could possibly miss that monster of a woman, with her long braided locks of blonde hair, pulled back with a horse-tail headdress that hung from the back of her head to her buttocks. In fact, she was one of a very few Feral that could actually wear Gear armor, including the COG rig and it's components.

Like some Feral, Teirre' didn't speak a lick of Tyran, but anytime she entered a facility, her presence was more than known as everyone's gaze would flock to her charisma. She was bulky as well as tall, weighing at least two hundred pounds with only her muscular biceps being the only visible part of her body, with the rest covered in battle fatigues. She was quite an ornament, with the top portion of her face covered in war paint and multiple piercings on both her ears. Despite the bulky COG armor, most everyone could tell that she was well endowed with a long flexible waist, and the kind of thighs she could make a small fortune crushing food cans.

Needless to say, many a Gear was instantly intimidated by this woman, even though she was flirtatiously amiable, and seemed to enjoy communing and gossiping with other Feral as well as trying to commune with Gears, despite the language barrier. It was one of those contrasts that Miller couldn't help himself but to find amusing, often introducing all the new, rotating Gears to her first, just to see how long it took for them to piss themselves when she gave each and every one of them a crushing bear hug; the kind that would make one's ears pop, not once, but twice.

Then there was his personal assistant, Gaila, whom was the complete opposite of Teirre,' being half her height with cropped black hair, a round face with slanted eyes, and a rosy, perky pout. Gaila was better versed in the Tyran language, although it wasn't her first language, so sometimes her pronunciation was off from time to time. Nevertheless, she could still competently speak and write, often dictating most of Millers' emails and faxes to command so he could put his two hands to other uses; such as drinking coffee with one hand and hiking up a skirt with the other.

Although Miller was soon known to be enchanting with his female audience, many a Feral found his musings to be primitive, with Gaila being one. Despite her age and tiny appearance, she was attentive and twice as shrewd, which may have been the real reason Miller hired her on in the first place. She was someone who could handle dictation as well as be subjective with Millers' flirtatious intuitions…that, and she was a fluent typist.

Looking out into the morning haze, between the sounds of the morning birds mingled with the yelling coming from the girls practicing their combat techniques, it was a rather tranquil sight if Miller ever saw one. He leaned back into his chair, sipping on warm coffee while Gaila was in the other room, tending to the usual administrative duties, next to a computer and fax machine. Although normally she was dressed in her usual "scout" fatigues, today she wore a gray t-shirt to accommodate the smoldering heat rather than her leather chest plate that felt like a sauna every time she wore it. Being reduced down to being the Captains' secretary, she figured she could be complimentary to the Gear dress code by simply wearing a Gear issued shirt, COG bottom fatigues, utility belt, boots, and a leather buckled sheath carrying something that resembled a machete.

Typing at her desk, she's alerted to the grumbling coming from the fax machine, feeding paper into the ink press as it spat out several pages onto the tray. Reaching over to pick up the paper, she skimmed the report on the top.

"Captain…your inquiry from command is here," she yelled over her shoulder. Turning to the sound of her voice, Miller let out a groan, knowing that he was going to have to inevitably get up from his comfortable position to go and read command's latest inquiry.

"Alright Gail…shit, now I gotta get up," Miller growled as he pulled himself onto his feet. Rolling his shoulders back as he stretched out his arms, he lets out a massive yawn, feeling the tension in his lower back from the day before, when he sat in the Retreat conference for over two hours.

Walking into the office through the open door, he gazed at Gail leaning over the fax machine, reading as it was dispensing copies of the report. His gaze meandered to her backside, envisioning her slender figure under the loosely fitted t-shirt and her COG-issued cargo pants. He could visualize her curves that tapered from her waist down to her buttocks; a subjective point-of-view from the few times he's seen her change her clothes.

The Feral were not very conscientious about their bodies, so it wasn't uncommon to see them change their clothes out in the open, despite the on-looking Gears, whom wouldn't think twice about taking the opportunity to peek at naked woman in clear sight. Although Miller couldn't imagine anything more enchanting, but for the sake of keeping the recruits' sanity, he requested the Feral many times to keep their parts covered when being around the men. He even had the men build a barn for the women to bathe and change, while the men tended to their own hygiene needs in the outpost barracks.

Gaila finally stood back up, turning around with her eyes still fixed on the documents in hand. Miller stood over her as she suddenly glanced up to hand him the papers.

"Looks like the Feral Consulate is hospitalized again."

"Goddamnit, again?" he growled. Scanning the report over briefly, he let out a sigh while subbing his forehead, reading the dismal print;

Eloise Raven McNight is hospitalized, due to a bombing at the supply station just outside of Vectus Navel base. Corporal Baird, and Private Farlene accompanied Ms. McNight to the facility before the bomb, rigged to the front door, detonated, consequently killing Private Farlene, severely injuring Ms. McNight and causing minor injuries to Corporal Baird. Ms. McNight was just recently released from the trauma unit and relocated to the ward for rehabilitation.

"Just what I fucking need, shit!"

"And it also looks like Major Reid has requested you to go back to headquarters tomorrow for a debriefing."

"Yea, whoop de, fucking do!"

Placing her recently finished dictations she spent over two hours typing out, into a manila folder, Gaila opens up a cabinet to file away the dated folder inside with the other dated folders from previous council meetings earlier that month. Standing back up, Gaila could feel the ogling stare coming from the vivacious Captain, as he flashed her a smile despite hearing word of having to meet with Major Reid, whom Miller didn't really hold in high regard. Nevertheless, Miller wasn't going to leave the Retreat outpost without inducing a chance for one more, little fling.

"So, I don't suppose…"

"No," Gaila answered bluntly.

"But you haven't even heard me out yet…"

"…I will be going to training once I got done here, Captain."

"Wait, training? What type of training are we talking about?"

"The kind you men, rhetorically call, bumping uglies."

"Are you kidding me? Sweetheart, I could show you how to make woopie in more ways than one…"

"No."

"You sure? I mean, what can another woman possibly tell you about how to please a man?"

"Goodnight Captain," Gaila rebutted in monotone before dropping the rest of the pages into the feed tray and walking out of the office without even so much as amusing the Captain with a brief, sympathetic glance.


~The writing on the walls is ever so clear, and yet, we choose to play ignorant, so politicians devour it all, inch after inch…

…and as long as you tolerate this, then your children will be next. ~



Chapter 12: The Living Dead Edit

As you're bony fingers close around me, long and spindly, death becomes me. Heaven can you see what I see?

Unwanted, uninvited kin, it creeps beneath your crawling skin. It lives without, it lives within you.

Paying debt to karma, you party for a living. What you take won't kill you, but be careful what you're giving.

Dream On [8]...performed by the Scala Choir
Depeche Mode



COG Command, Dr. Leroy McNeil

Analysis report: Concerning the patient, COG ID, 636462, Sergeant Milliardo Leviticus Morose, recently discharged for post-traumatic stress disorder, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and clinical depression, following the events of being subjected to the direct path of the Hammer of Dawn, whom has managed to somehow survive and is in otherwise, perfect physical condition, according to Gear standards. His mental condition however has deteriorated immensely, since he was subjected to the Exlin.

In hearing of his recent resignation, has only fueled his malcontent for the COG council and it’s military personnel. He claims that certain members of the council were directly responsible for the experimentations being held by the Berrell Corporation, working on biological weaponry during the Pendulum Wars before apprehending the Hammer of Dawn technology. He is presently isolated from the general pop to avoid causing duress amongst the other patients, however, his knowledge of the events that transpired during that confidential meeting concerning the Hammer strike is alarming, not to mention that he has attempted to accuse Chairman Dalyell of co-conspiracy of putting to silence certain individuals whom have had knowledge of harboring Indie defectors.

To avoid a possible expose’ in military personnel, I strongly suggest to deem Sergeant Morose as mentally unfit for duty and have him relocated to Jacinto Maximum Security Institution for additional prognosis. Any charges he intended to bring before the state will be disreputable.

In the meantime, I await your decision on how we are to redress this problem, before it becomes a political nightmare, subsequently causing any UIR diplomacy to erode further.




Vectus Convention Center boardroom…

“Rest assured Chancellor, I have sent additional reinforcements at the Retreat Airbase for further security measures and hence, preserve the Feral borders,”

…Chairman Prescott attempted to reassure Maloney Berger, the Retreat Chancellor and Chamberlain of the Retreat council, speaking on the behalf of senior Chancellor Drain, whom originally dispatched their Chamberlain concerning a foreign faction taking refuge along their district; A.K.A. the Feral. Next to him sat one of Retreat’s board members, Frederick Weatherby, a well-known, prestigious businessmen of the somewhat, isolated city-state.

The festering atmosphere of suspicion hovered vastly in the meeting room as eight men sat along the meeting table, their gazes fixed on the composed COG Chairman.

“You say you can keep the borders secure, but apparently you can’t even track down a handful of civilian terrorists!” Berger lashed back with as much scrutiny as he could subtly muster, holding nothing back with his fiery, forked tongue. It’s not as if Prescott hadn't dodged bullets in his own meeting room before, but the recent events as of late have encouraged more past wounds to resurface.

“…and furthermore, the Gorasni has the nerve address our city in the event that we may be harboring the suspects responsible for the attack on their convoy! For your information, we don’t not harbor terrorists, Commander,” Berger directed his attention to Commander Trescu, whom was sitting idle across from the anal Chancellor, his gaze calm for the time being.

“Chamberlain, with all due respect, we have nothing to suggest that your town is harboring terrorists, much less whomever may be responsible for these malicious attacks,” said Prescott.

“Then surely the Commander would like to recognize the Vectus Prosecution and Sanctuary Act…and that no city or nation may act as a sanctuary to anyone charged of felonious acts, however, one nation cannot enter another without the approval of the latter to apprehend any suspect in a felony!”

The double doors to the room suddenly opened up as two Gears walked in, escorting a gray-haired woman in leather, combat fatigues. Her face was tanned, accenting the cropped gray hairs that framed her round face, while long gray braids hung over her back. The men in the room fell silent and fixated their gaze to the creature whom walked in with authority and poise. Her head held high and her shoulders erect, keeping her hand nestled on top of the tang of her sword, sitting snuggly in it’s sheath.

Prescott is the first to stand out of his chair to extend his hand in a chivalrous greeting.

“Reverend Mother…I thank you for joining our meeting on such a short notice…”

“You may dispense with the formalities, Chairman. I’m only here to address questions this council may have concerning the events as of late,” the Reverend Mother Paroux replied back with such an unusual hint of confidence.

Turning her head over her shoulder to give a discerning glance at her escort, the two Gears backed off without hesitation and exited the room, closing the doors behind them.

“Please, Reverend Mother, have a seat,” Prescott insisted.

“Thank you Chairmen…gentlemen of the council,” she acknowledged the other authorities in the room. Although she wasn’t the least bit impressed with their means of valor, but for the time, she entertained their chauvinistic prejudice as any woman would expect in a room full of men of power. She meandered to an empty seat at the other side of the head of the table, the only vacant seat in the room, and with precaution, sat down.

Gawking at the mild, but fierce woman, the Council of the Nations of Vectus redirected their composure in the presence of the leader of the fledgling faction, who‘s influence may have little potency amongst the nations predominantly lead by men. Nevertheless, Prescot’s means of diplomacy would include the representation of the Feral.

Prescott took it upon himself to break the awkward ambiance that was festering in the room.

“Chancellor, Commander, gentlemen of the board,” Prescott began, “…I present to you the Reverend Mother Paroux of the Feral’s Council of Matriarchs. She has agreed to address any inquiries you may have concerning the Feral occupation near Kevlar, and what is to become after the events of late.”

“Then would the Reverend Mother be kind as to address the board, whom are the Feral and what role will they play in rebuilding humanity?” Chancellor Berger began. Commander Trescu sat in his seat, fixating his attention to Paroux’s sword that was still nestled in her sheath.

“Gentlemen of the board, if I may speak plainly…the Feral is an organization in response to the repercussions that have been so costly during the events of the Pendulum Wars. For so long, women and children, from both sides of the lines, have been subjected to countless accounts of cruelty, starvation, rape, theft, and murder. The COG and UIR both share the blame for the conditions many women and children were subjected to; all for the sake of whom was to control our, whom some have said, our most, indigenous, natural resource.”

Silence followed the elderly woman’s words, inflected by her native accent that was neither of Tyrus or Vectus. While Berger’s brow dropped heavily at the woman’s account of the events that have transpired during the late Pendulum war, Trescu was impressed by Paroux’s prose. She didn’t hesitate nor waver between the dictations she intended to address this council.

“When the opportunity arose for the women to take matters into their own hands, to rely on themselves and get away from the hardships that are often associated with war, we formed this faction, whom the men of Sera have called the Feral.”

“Pardon my intrusion during your inspirational speech, Reverend Mother,” Trescu interrupted, “…but the place you have chosen in this world, along with your cohorts, is more than justified. I would have to suggest to this council that the Feral have every right to be included amongst the existing nations as it’s own state, and to preserve that which they have found as a means to survive a near century, long war, and the human-locust war. Surely they have much more to offer the human race, other than just their wombs.”

“Indeed Commander, your point is taken,” Prescott made a point to agree, “…the COG has offered the Feral sanctuary in exchange for past services that have been rendered, consequently saving my Gears and that of what was left of Jacinto’s remnants.”

It didn’t take long for Berger to jump in.

“The Feral may have a means of culture that may prove valuable to the human race, but this sanctuary, offered by the COG, doesn't align with Vectus’ laws and boundaries,” said Berger.

“Surely this island can accommodate these women in a small patch of land that has long been unoccupied and lacks any commercial use,” Prescott tried to reason.

“…A piece of land that was reserved for later uses, only to be put on delay due to the economical pressures that have plagued this island since E-day!” Berger snapped back.

“The economy here is still afloat, Chancellor. Retreat is still in the green…”

“For Pelruan it is, but only because Pelruan has the only known existing immulsion rig near Vectus!”

Without further hesitatoin, Weatherby jumped into conversation between the two men.

“The only reason you’re willing to be diplomatic with the Gorasni, Chairman, is because they have the only, working immulsion rig on the island! Their need for the supply will put strain on our barely-stable economy, forcing us to raise prices due to the increase of demand from Pelruan!”

“There is no logic for the Gorasni to jeopardize our relations to the island by raising our prices on a more than plentiful, natural resource. It would not only be unethical, but it would be ludicrous to sabotage this economy by attaching additional levies for the sake of overproduction,” said Sir Levvy of the Pelruan Board of Economics, sitting next to Trescu.

“Please…gentlemen, it was these same concerns that began the Pendulum wars,” Prescott insisted, before the other men could dominate the discussion, “…I am adamant NOT to make the same mistakes our ancestors made when they failed to make negotiations and diplomacy amongst the other nations to handle the demand and supply to all nations, including the third world countries.”

“Then Pelruan’s rig should be subsidized by the nations according to their energy demands and not by some made up percentage…” Berger responded.

“The percentage of energy output being produced by the foundry in Retreat was addressed according to the fuel meter that was put into effect, by you, seven years ago. If you believed this to be in error, or malfunctioning, then it is your initiative to contact us so we could address the problem…”

“Gentlemen,” Paroux gently intervened as the men fell silent. Her calm demeanor redirected her audience as the hostile atmosphere subsided for a moment, while Paroux continued to address the council,

“Although Vectus’ economical hardships can be understood, surely there is willingness from the nations to come to some, resolution that will benefit from some form of trade and commerce.”

“Commerce is not the problem, Reverend Mother, but the economic equality amongst these nations, is,” said Weatherby.

“Then bring all remaining resources to the table, Councilor, including all utilities, natural gas, farming, livestock, textiles…anything that can be bartered for trade…”

“I must concur with the Reverend Mother,” Trescu added, “…however, the COG must also concur with Vectus’ laws and regulations for the overall welfare of Vectus and it’s inhabitants.”

Prescott could suddenly feel the rope being tugged, as if the idea of accepting Pelruan’s terms was a ground one must tread most carefully. He didn’t like the idea of having to grovel the Gorasni for their immulsion production, but as long as Pelruan was a military state, diplomacy is the more, chivalrous way to win their trust.

“However, there is dissent amongst my people,” the Reverend Mother began. And here it comes…Prescott was careful not to cringe.

“Ever since we have taken root on the island, our means of livelihoods have been scrutinized. We were subjected to being disarmed, coerced into expanding our breeding orthodox, causing further scrutiny against our ethos, and our only Feral diplomat, has become the target of assassination!”

The room sat still as if each member of the board had a gun against their head. A single, subtle gesture could disturb the tranquility in the room, just as subtle as a pin drop.

“As I have depicted with the Chamberlain, Madame Feral, I have units presently investigating the assassination attempt on your diplomat, as well as that of several of our own Gears, including one of our technicians. The Gorasni have agreed to share some information concerning these attacks, so that we can bring thses culprits to justice.”

“…And sooner the better,” Berger grumbled, “…because the last thing we need is having these ruffians infiltrating our peaceful community. Which brings me back to the issue of the Feral reservation being so close to Retreat’s borders…”

…and deliberations have come into full circle, Prescott groaned.




Civilian District 5, COG province, northeast of Vectus Naval Base…

Amnesty was word that was so fragile, it could splinter, even with the slightest context that hinted at some pathetic route to truce. Any Stranded on the street could tell you this, even those with the best of intentions, but it was a start, though be it rough and frigid, but a start.

It wasn’t long the Stranded subdivisions had their own drinking hole, a refuge from the wheels of sorrow that has long plagued the men, many of them Pendulum vets, sitting idle, wasting away with whatever liquor, moonshine, or whiskey was brought to the table. It didn’t matter what it was; booze was booze, and at the end of the day, the vicinity reeked of it.

Amongst the room of grimy grunts that were working the trenches earlier that day was a man well into his years, fifty at least, sitting by himself away from the usual muses that instigated the most eccentric drinking songs this side of Vectus Island, mostly of tales and rhetoric’s about the Pendulum wars, lyrically often bashing Trescu and anything else Gorasni in general, or about the early days when Gears fought with Plancers, sharpening their bayonets on their leather hilts, embroidered with the family crest and arms. It was the days that were almost forgotten, ever since the Locust came, and destroyed whatever heritage these men had left. They were too old to enlist again, but too young to retire as well. They sat forever in limbo, trying to find work that could at least pay their bar tab, and the rest was for showing off to some floozy on the corner between the bar and the amnesty “subdivision,” generously provided by the COG, hoping to maybe blow a load off too while they were at it.

The man would sit and watch attentively, as Gears came in and came out, patrolling the streets for the sake of keeping some stage presence amongst those who try to accept amnesty, if such a thing existed. Hierarchy took on a whole other meaning now, especially since most of the populous was at a plateau. Nevertheless, there were still divisions within the subdivisions, which the man found to be very ironic. The “class structure” was still just a prominent now as it ever was, even though everyone had to share the same toilets and communal showers.

He would sit and watch, occasionally scratching his thick tattered, chin length, peppered hair, while peering through a drunken haze with his bright blue eyes. More and more, he glared out from under what was once a auto repair shop, with rolled up chain doors, now the local, neighborhood pub as he sat just out in the carport, shaded by the metal roof above, feeling the cool, sea breeze that would brush through, taking notice of some Gears coming and going in the street ahead. With perchance, he looked up to see a familiar face, one he couldn’t forget soon enough.

As Hoffman made his way towards the bar, his armored demeanor was long recognized, as the other usuals turn their backs to him in their seats, not wanting to have anything to do with the Colonel, or anyone else for that matter to anyone that was in uniform. It wasn’t long before Hoffman’s gaze met with the man who sat isolated away from everyone else, finding some means of justification for how or why the man managed to survive the Pendulum war, much less the Locust/human war. But his gaze was soon returned, feeling the primeval exchange of subtlety that he still remembered, after all these years; that same gaze that would send chills under your skin with his icy stare, a reminiscence of what Hoffman had to face before, history repeating itself once again. He seems to be doing well, for a man who is supposed to be dead…much to Hoffman’s disappointment.

As the Colonel closed the gap even further between the two men, Hoffman finally came to a halt, looking around to find a chair and then took a seat next to the man who didn’t flinch, nor protest, only glared at the Colonel with a solemn look of defeat, long before Hoffman ever figured out that he was still alive. Ironically, some issues never seem to get past Hoffman, despite his own skeletons he long left in his thought closet, but this was one that Hoffman could never repress, and it was just as excruciating to feel it once more.

“You mind if I have a seat, Specialist Haley?” Hoffman asked, even though he already made himself at home, regardless if Haley was willing to invite him or not.

“You’re not a guest, Colonel…you’re just a pretense. All of this belongs in your jurisdiction anyway…” Haley grumbled in a low, raspy voice, like the sound of a cinder block being dragged along asphalt. The man appeared just as worn as the old Colonel, and perhaps just as ornery.

Haley looked as if he seen one traumatic incident too many, judging by the pale, opaque demeanor, following the lines on his obscure face, revealing the years of standing too close to an explosion or two, judging by the shrapnel scars on his face and neck, but this was something Hoffman remembered about Haley. He was indeed a man with a unique profession, and he was more valuable than he was liked. In fact, he was, for the most part hated, but the only person alive, who knew exactly why was Hoffman, and it was a fact that was swept under the rug, along with a lot of other bullshit Hoffman had to cover up over the years. Maybe Haley can pull his sorry keister out of the shit and be useful again, before he chokes his way into the grave for good.

“Well I’m glad you can get that off your chest, Quade…for the longest time, I thought you were just waiting out, just so you could piss on my grave.”

“Funny, I was going to ask the same of you…but I figured old habits die hard, right Colonel?”

“I’ll just cut the shit for the sake of saving face, Quade…”

“Good, cause I hate long, fucking waits.”

As Hoffman reached into the pack on his leg, he pulled out a couple of shards of shrapnel, and laid them out on the table for Haley to see. Looking blankly at the pieces of plastic and metal Hoffman placed on the table, Haley let out a slight snicker, amused by the fragments with the scorch marks along the edges,

“Well, well, somebody’s been busy…and I take it got close and personal.”

“Considering it nearly took out one of our more, diverse engineers, and a Feral consulate…”

Quade couldn’t help but to snicker.

“A Feral consulate? Is that what you're calling them now?”

“Don't even try to patronize me, Haley. Your worth is as limp as my dick, slumped in a vice.”

“They got a word for that Colonel...it's called erectile dysfunction...and your little problem should concern me, why?”

“...because it may be one of your homeboys whom managed to scrap this shit up...and for the record, it may be in your better interest, as ridiculous as this may sound to you now, to make sure that diplomacy between the factions is preserved.”

“Yea, the last time we mingled with a Feral consulate, she wanted my balls as an addition to her voodoo necklace...”

“Well shit, Haley, I'm so glad you can learn from the errors of your ways and function just like the rest of the civilized population.”

“Ok, now you're patronizing me Colonel!”

“Shut the fuck up, Haley...I didn't come here to bust your sorry ass about past endeavors. So while you’re sitting here, feeling so fucking sorry for yourself, maybe you can be a contributing member to society and tell me something about this?”

Haley sat up from his sober stupor, and gave the pieces of shrapnel a look before picking one up and analyzing it, paying close attention to the singed edges, as if he was reading a diagram.

“I can tell you right now, Colonel...whoever made this doesn't have a lot of experience putting this shit together…so naturally, I would narrow it down to a Stranded civvie, a kid, or hell, maybe a woman.”

“How you figure that, Quade?”

“You see the sharp, red scorching on the edge here? “ Haley pointed out, gently moving his grimy finger along the soft, melted edges of the piece of plastic, “...that indicates whoever put this together wasn't conscientious about getting the mixture just right, that or they were too much in a hurry to get it put together.”

Hoffman watched this man work his magic, relaying detail after detail of what was used and how much. Haley was a prestigious, analytical and forensic chemist, which complimented his ability to work with anything volatile on the field…proof that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, Hoffman couldn’t help but to reminisce.

“Crimson coalite is versatile enough to pack a bang, but if the mixture is off, even slightly, the direction of the frag pellets, or in this case, nails, is not dispersed evenly. Whoever walked into this was lucky...if this was done by a professional, you'd be picking them up with a mop and bucket.”

“Well I'll be sure to include that image in my inquisition for future reference, Quade...and while we're on the topic, is there any word out on the street concerning who is putting these things together?”

“How the hell should I know, I just fucking live here?”

“I should probably also inform you that a few Gorasni patrols were also hit, bringing the casualty list now to thirty-six, with three wounded, within less of a week. You of all people should know that the Gorasni don't take casualties to their own men very well.”

“…and why should I give a flying fuck what the Gorasni think?”

“….because the Gorasni have their suspicions that it’s one of you guys. You said so yourself, it’s most likely a Stranded piece,”

“I said Stranded, not old, useless vets like us, Victor.”

“Speak for yourself, Quade…”

“Fuck you, Colonel. I wasted fifteen years of my life, pulling out every piece of explosive device out of harms way that was engineered by the Indies, and here you want me to help them find out who’s picking on their little convoys, well they can fuck themselves.”

“…and I wasted God knows, how many sleepless nights and military resources to keep your pitiful, sorry ass out of prison, just so you could do your fucking job. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t feel like putting your balls on the chopping block, Haley…but hell, I guess I can’t say nothing good ever came out of them, but I sure as hell wouldn‘t want to place that on your resume‘!”

Hoffman picked up his cap while sitting up out of his seat. Quade didn’t respond, nor gesture; he just sat lifeless in his chair, wasting away along with the others while Hoffman placed his cap back on his head.

“You better start thinking a little hard about where you wanna go with this, cause I’m telling you right now,” Hoffman continued while Quade just continued to sit in silence, “…if the Gorasni get involved, I’m going to be filling out an overabundance of paperwork at the morgue…but if the Feral get involved, well…”

Pushing the chair back under the table Hoffman started to walk out before that same grinding voice could be heard in the back of his subconscious,

“…alright Vic. I’ll do it…but on one condition…”

Hoffman turned around as he turned his focus back to Quade,

“…and what’s that, Haley?”

“I want my old rank back.”

Shortly after Quade’s request, Hoffman’s gut wrenched at the thought of giving this bastard what he wanted, despite being demoted for multiple felony counts that would normally put a man before the firing squad, but Haley’s occupation was too valuable to waste and the COG got there investment out of him when he managed to save countless convoys, Dills, and Centaurs from an array of mines that the UIR laid out to snare their infantry. The numbers didn’t lie when it came to then, Major Quade Haley, a demolition and bomb specialist who could locate and defuse any device the UIR threw at them. His ability as an intelligence officer was uncanny.

“Report to the command center at o’ nine hundred, tomorrow…Major,” Hoffman responded, and without another word, began to walk away, knowing now that their chances of success just doubled. It was just a question as to how long the Colonel was going to have to keep a lid on the whereabouts of an officer whom, according to the legal dept, was supposed to be dead.


Chapter Thirteen: Reliving Scars Edit

Now you're standing there tongue tied, you better learn your lesson well. Hide what you have to hide, and tell what you have to tell.

You'll see your problems multiplied,if you continually decide, To faithfully pursue, the policy of truth.

Never again, is what you swore, the time before.

Depeche Mode


Dr. Peter Ramses sat in the staff lounge, sipping on a cup of coffee that he had diligently filled before the other staff members could hog it all as it often was, and then would never bother to reset the coffee brewer again. It was one of Ramses' pet peeves about working in Vectus hospital, under an administration that was not all too fond of having a COG forensist have sole occupancy of their mortuary. Nevertheless, he did find solace in having the mortuary to himself, not having to answer to the Vectus' Administration of Better Health Board, especially since they were keeping a war criminal on ice.

He managed to finalize the lab tests, concluding his findings in a report he kept in a manila folder that was lying on the table in font of him. Still sipping on his coffee, he looked up to see one of Hoffman's most trusted officers, someone whom was easy on the eyes, but all the professional just the same.

Lieutenant Stroud walked into the lounge as a few nurses walked out, leaving the room all to her and the mortician, still seated at his table, sipping coffee. His dark hair was shuffled from the cold, dry freezer while his skin appeared insipid under the lounge florescent lighting. The man resembled something of a zombie, completely void of the sun and smelled of death, with a slight scar below his lower lip, surrounded by the dark stubble that littered his chin. Nevertheless, Anya knew that Dr. Ramses was a close confident to the Colonel and therefore made the initiative to take a seat at the very same table, sitting adjacent to him.

"Good morning Doctor…" she greeted him with a half-smile. Ramses gently placed his coffee mug on the table, exchanging a grin in return.

"Lieutenant," he nodded, "…please correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe you are here for the file on the Colonel's crown jewel, yes?"

"Indeed doctor," Anya replied at the smug doctor, as a grin curled on the corner of his mouth after her reply. The crowsfeet that spanned from the edge of his eyes when he smiled, gave off it's own charisma, the only sign of life on the otherwise, tranquil pale man.

"But…before I hand this, confidential document to you, I must know one thing…" Ramses asked her, clasping his hands together and placing them on the table. Anya was puzzled as to what the man could possibly request from the younger woman.

"Alright doctor. Proceed."

"What is…the beach here like?"

"The beach?" Anya was bemused by Ramses' request.

"Yes. You see, ever since we were relocated here, I have yet to leave the mortuary and see the island for myself. For the past few months, I have been eating, sleeping, conjugating in the morgue, with only the good Colonel to keep me company, and occasionally the field medic whose sole intent I swear is to eradicate every cup of coffee he can muster on base."

Anya let out a slight chuckle, knowing that Ramses was most likely referring to Corporal Grimes, whom was addicted to caffeine as a chain-smoker was addicted to nicotine. Taking a moment to compose herself, Anya searched for the words to describe the local beach that ran along the base and ship docks.

"Well…there's always a breeze. Not too strong, but not too light either."

"Go on, your doing well Lieutenant," Ramses prodded.

"Um, the sand is real fine; not like the sand, say in a kids box, where it's real grainy, but soft to the bottom of your feet, that seeps between your toes…"

"Like bynatine grass on the old base lawn?"

"Yes. Yes, just like that old lawn back in Jacinto."

Bynatine grass was a favorite among the pristine lawns of Jacinto, whose blades where feathery and exceptionally green. It was not only drought tolerant, but it was so soft and fine, it felt as if one was walking on clouds. It was known for it's buoyancy and thickness.

"…and of course there's the sounds of the crashing waves and the nagging seagulls…"

"Aw yes, constantly begging for your picnic food," said Ramses as he envisioned Anya's description.

"And…that's all that I can think of for right now."

"So, you haven't ran into the water, to feel the waves crash along your legs?"

"No, not yet. Ever since the bombings, we've been working around the clock."

"Mmmm, I see," Ramses looked upon Anya with a glare of disappointment, but it withered into calm again, just as Anya had always remembered the doctor to be.

The last time she could recall seeing the doctor was during death toll counts, and despite Sergeant Ramses' sordid occupation, the man was always poised and strangely tranquil. He always delivered his prognosis with refined, well-chosen words, but he never adorned the circumstances with flattery. There was nothing flattering when it concerned the dead, unless it was brought in from the doctor himself. He accepted death gracefully, as it was expected from a man of valor.

Removing his black-rimmed glasses, Ramses rubbed the arch of his nose for a minute before he looked up to pick up the manila folder and hand it to the Lieutenant.

"This is what Hoffman has been waiting for."

"Understood doctor. I'll be sure to get it to him as quickly as possible."

Folding his hands once again, he peered from under his deep-set eyes.

"There are sensitive points in my analysis that must be handled with care, Lieutenant."

"I assure you that I will not look at them."

Ramses could only chuckle at Anya's sincerity.

"I'm not concerned whether you look at the documents, young lady," Ramses mused, but then his voice turned forlorn, "…but, there are other eyes that I would be wary of, Miss Stroud."

Anya didn't quite understand what the doctor was alluding to, but nodded just the same. Ramses could immediately tell that she didn't quite know what he was insinuating, so he leaned over with his dark eyes fixed upon hers.

"Please understand Miss Stroud, the Colonel must know these, at all costs. It doesn't matter what is to happen to these documents afterwards, they can be burned for all I care…but it is imperative that he understands my prognosis."

Leaning back he could tell that she understood, judging by the sudden widening of her bright eyes, the same eyes he remembered from her mother, the late Major Helen Stroud. Although Helen was more stout and round than that of her long and slender daughter, Helen still had those same beautiful, bright eyes.

She let out a sigh before finally summoning the courage to finally ask him the question she always wanted since her cadet days.

"Now, may ask you something, Sergeant?"

"Yes Lieutenant…"

"How did you get that scar?"

Ramses could only lower his head as a smile stretched across his face as the hard drive to his memory began to churn. The scents, the sights and the ambience of that day came to the surface, bringing to mind the blood that trickled into his mouth after the incident that nearly took off his head.

Taking another sip of his lukewarm coffee, he gave her nod, signaling her release from his company, before having to go back to the bowels of Vectus Hospital once more. Gathering the folder, Anya got the hint before she stood up from her chair and proceeded to door to empty the lounge. Putting the cup of coffee back on the table, Ramses put on his black-rimmed glasses before letting out a sigh, contemplating his next move, now that the pieces have been set.




The waves could be heard crashing along the shore as the Vectus Navel Base mess hall kept its doors open to accommodate the happy hour crowd, but as of this evening, the crowd was thinning, due to training ops that was scheduled the next day. Gears came and went as shifts changed, keeping the crowd minimal.

Sitting alone at the bar table, Baird managed to get out of Vectus Hospital that same day with just some scrapes and a few stitches to show for it. His stay only lasted twenty-eight hours while Raven on the other hand was going to stay another night, but will hopefully be released the following morning. She doesn't take sedatives too well.

As many of the other patrons called it a night, Baird hung out by himself, writing in his journal while going over the technical read-outs Raven was able to scribble in her journal from earlier that week. Although accessing the terminal to run a diagnostic was going to be the easy part, putting up with Raven after recent events was going to be another matter in itself.

Letting out a exhausting sigh, after spending the previous day lying in a hospital bed under heavy pain meds, Baird resumed rubbing his forehead to ease the tension while his dinner was sitting cold next to his warm beer. Pondering if things could possibly get any worse after recent events, an ecstatic Corporal Bjork managed to sneak into the bar, boisterously blurting out from across the buffet bar set opposite from Baird's brooding place.

"Well, well, look at poor D…sittin' by himself, sulking at the bar…" Bjork mused at a weary, agnostic Damon Baird.

"…I'm not in the mood Spades," Baird grumbled in return.

"Alright, so what the hell crawled up your ass today? Oh wait, that's right…" Bjork sneered as he took a seat in the bar stool next to Baird, "…your running diagnostics on the main terminal…and just when everything was all going all right in the world, BOOM!"

"Yea, no shit, dumbass. You figured that out all by yourself?"

"I would like to figure you got all those scratches from some late night, poontang, you know what I mean?"

"Pfft, yea, I'm all over the booty on base…like when do I have time to lay some fucking pipe?" Baird groaned in a tired, course tone, rubbing his forehead in the process.

"Seriously man, you need to let me in when your bumping uglies with some broad," Bjork continued, "…would it ever occur to you that she might have a sister?"

Baird lifted his weary head, giving Bjork his blue-eyed gaze of exasperation.

"Why are you here, Spades? I thought you were transferred to Retreat?" Baird sneered keeping his glare fixated on the eccentric Corporal.

"Training ops, baby."

"Oh fuck, that's right," Baird grumbled before dropping his gaze back to his cold food plate, "…seriously Spades, I don't feel like dealing with this shit right now."

"Oh, and by the way, Gus is headin' up here."

"Fuck, I thought you guys would be hitting the hay by now, getting ready for tomorrow?"

"So you are trying to avoid us," Bjork reiterated as he pulled out cigarette from the pack stuffed his pocket.

"Well, now that you mentioned it, yea, I was…but apparently I can't seem to do that right either."

"Yea, well, you do know that we heard from a little birdie that the Feral Consulate is going to be released and put back on the job here soon."

Imagine that…Baird groaned to himself as he slapped his pin into his open journal, while Bjork pulled out folder and laid it out on the bar.

"…oh, and here is the assessments I was supposed to bring you earlier this week, but apparently, you were busy doing other things…" said Bjork as Baird slumped in his stool.

"Why do you have to bring this up now? Can't you see I'm busy?"

"Sitting at the bar scribbling in your journal with a warm beer and cold food…yea, your making progress."

"Yea, go fuck yourself Spades," Baird growled before Bjork let out a chuckle as he lit up his cigarette with his lighter. Baird picked up the folder to flip through the pages, scanning through it.

"Ok, so everything is in order, fine…great…we're done here," Baird blurted with sarcasm before closing the folder back up to slap it back on the counter.

"You skipped over the part where Dill three-four idles every time it comes to a stop," Bjork corrected him, letting out a puff of smoke before he took a quick snuff of his cigarette.

"Then it's probably a busted hose, messing up the air flow…"

"Well, you're going to have to like, fix it, sometime before…"

"Geez, it's not that fucking hard Spades, just tell whoever does the oil change to use some electrical tape and wrap it up. Problem solved."

"So, when are you, uh…going to be done?"

"How the the hell should I know, I just…" Baird stopped in mid sentence before Bjork gave him a condescending look while puffing on his cig, "…sigh, I meant, we, just now managed to get the diagnostics started, and it won't be until probably sometime late in the day before we can even get any reading on the schematics of the entire network."

"I bet it's the software…"

"Yea, well, Raven believes it's the software too, but I won't know for sure until tomorrow, so why don't you do me a favor and go play with yourself until I can get this thing resolved, before you slap another late assessment report on my desk."

"Yea, I'll be sure to place it on your toilet next time, with the rest of your tech manuals and nudy mags."

"You go do that," Baird grumbled before he picked up his spoon to scoop up his mashed potatoes, and placed it into his mouth. Just as quickly as he put it in, he spat it out as his face cringed.

"Fuck, this shit's cold…" he griped.

"Well damn, D…how long have you been sitting here, staring at your so-called prognosis?"

"I've only been here for…" Baird paused as he looked up at the clock on the wall, "…um…damn, three hours?"

Baird let out a sigh before dropping his spoon back onto the untouched food that was piled on his plate.

"Ya know…I'm no psychiatrist…"

"Gah, here it comes," Baird grumbled to himself, wanting to shut his ears while Bjork continued.

"…but, why don't you and that Blackbird finally hit it so the both of you can lighten up; man, I've seen a lot of tight ass in my day, but damn…if she wasn't any less loose, you'd say she's had those legs soldered together…not to mention the only fling you've been indulging is Rosie Palmer, dipped in axle grease..."

Baird suddenly picked up his warm beer, taking in a mouthful while trying to tune Bjork out, but regardless what he did, Spades words' sunk into his subconscious like a slow, inevitable drip.

"...personally, I prefer Vaseline, but hey, whatever gets the job done, right?" Bjork finished while puffing on his cig, leaning his back along on the bar table, propped by his arms. Baird slammed his beer bottle down.

"Fuck Spades, are we seriously having this conversation right now?"

"Oh look…your homeboy made it after all," Bjork mused with his cigarette dangling from his mouth, watching Cole enter the bar, giving Bjork a heads up. Nodding in return, Bjork stood up from the stool after slapping his hand on Baird's shoulder.

"Well, I'll leave you two to slap cocks together…in the meantime…"

"…Yea, yea, yea, I'll take care of it later. Are we done here?"

"You gonna give me some sugar baby?" Bjork snickered, blowing a kiss as Baird turned over to give him a foul look.

"Ya know, if I was even remotely contemplating swinging that direction, I would much rather have you suck my dick…" Baird groaned as Bjork let out a chuckle, taking the cigarette from his mouth and giving Baird a wet one on the cheek, before Baird could push him away.

"Oooo, you know you love it when I talk dirty to ya," Bjork teased as Baird continued to shoo him away.

"Whatever, get the fuck out of here, numbnuts."

As Bjork started to leave, he nodded to Cole as he was walking over to the door,

"Evening sweetcheecks..." Bjork mused with his arms wide open and his tongue gliding over his upper lip.

"Sup Spades…how's it hangin'?" Cole returned blissfully, slapping a high five along Bjork's held up hand.

"Twelve o'clock baby!"

"Shit, for real?"

"Hey, I've been reassigned to the Retreat outpost airfield; ain't no man in his right frame of mind, walking around without a stiffy!"

"Ah damn! So that's where the action is, huh?"

"You know it." Bjork smiled with glee before letting go of Cole's hand, "...I'll catch ya later, man. In the meantime, tuck D into bed tonight, willya?"

"Hehe, you know it!" Cole snickered, walking past the buffet and towards the bar where Baird had his head propped up on his arm against the table.

"So…how you feelin'?" Cole asked as he took a seat next to Baird.

"Sore. Everywhere. Anywhere and everywhere…even in places I didn't think could get sore," Baird groaned.

"But yo balls intact, right?" Cole jestered.

"Yea, thank God…and they're sore too by the way; thanks for asking!"

"Speakin of which, how's Feral?"

Leaning back in his stool so he could stretch out his arms, Baird let out a yawn before he responded,

"She'll be released tomorrow."

"Yea, I can see you're ecstatic," Cole conveniently elbowed him as Baird dropped his arms.

"Hey, the sooner she gets out, the sooner we can get this job done, the sooner I can get back to working on the Sovereign again."

"So you're going to sit here and tell me that you haven't been missing her?"

"Did I even remotely insinuate that I did?"

"Are you kiddin'? Man, you been in a funky mood ever since Hoffman put you on assignment!"

"I'm always in a better mood when I'm not reduced down to guard duty. Speaking of which, why don't you come and help me later on, instead of shacking up with those loons at the East gate?"

"C'mon man, Vinny ain't so bad…Grimes is ok…and Josie's pretty cool once ya get to know him."

"Good God, they put Josephine with y'all?"

"Needed a replacement for Merdock, man."

"So what the fuck's wrong with Murdock?"

"Stomach bug, man."

"Ah, fuck. We got a bug going around now?"

"Shea. Poor guy was shootin out both ends…"

"Cole, c'mon man! I'm trying to eat."

"Pfft, no you're not. You're sulking…and don't say you ain't cause I've known you for too long, man."

"Yea yea, I'm getting teary-eyed too. Still, they need to put Josie with Marcus man, just so they can share some love stories from the prison communal showers."

"…and miss out on Josie's seafood gumbo? No thanks. That shit's too good to pass up."

"Fuck, they got him cooking too? Any wonder Murdoch has the shits! Stomach bug my ass!"

"Don't knock it until ya try it."

"Yea, just like the time you tried to get me to eat Kryll jerky…"

"…and you finally ate some as I recall. Shit was pretty good, though. So what am I going to get out of this if I go to work with ya?"

"Well…" Baird cringed as he leaned to pull a paper from the back pocket of his fatigue pants, "…if my suspicions is right, we'll have to access the main terminal externally."

"And?"

"We'll have to untangle all that wire at the station."

"Aw man…you mean at the terminal in headquarters?"

"Shea, but if we can get several people to work at it, we can probably get it done a lot faster than if it was just Rav and me…and if we get it done by the end of the week, you'll get at least a week off before your next rotation."

Cole's attention suddenly beamed in interest.

"Shit, for real?"

"That's how old man Hoffman laid it down. Get the router up and working and you'll have the rest of the rotation off, he said."

"So how far did you and Feral get?"

"Before or after we opened up a big can of exploding worms?"

"Damn man, did you two get anything accomplished?"

"After a I got that piece of crap Brahma to work earlier that morning, and hit the showers…um, not a lot."

"Yea, I bet you'd guys spent more time arguing than workin'."

"Actually," Baird began as he pulled out a tattered spiral notebook, surprisingly still intact despite the incidents of late, "…Rav did manage to isolate a possible access sequence in the program, according to her notes she wrote in her notebook before we got thrown ten feet in the air."

"So she narrowed it down, huh?"

"Yep," said Baird while he took a long sip of his warm beer.

"Sweet," said Cole, watching Baird slowly chug down the rest of his beer, "...so…what did you two do in the showers?"

Baird could only raise his brow while still sipping on his bottle of beer, cringing as he swallowed the warm, carbonated fluid down his parched throat. Letting out a exhale before placing the glass down, he closed up his journal and plopped it on top of Bjork's assessment folder.

"Seriously man, c'mon. It's me you're talking about."

"Yea, pretendin' to be, Mr. I'm too anal retentive to give Feral my time of day…"

"Pfft, whatever man…and for the record, we didn't do anything, so you can give Spades his money back…and anybody else you wagered with while I was sitting in a hospital bed for twenty fucking hours!"

"So you really think we can get this down pat, huh?"

"If it all goes smoothly, we should have this network issue resolved in a few days."

"Define a few days…"

"Well," said Baird while scratching the back of his head as he stood up from his stool, gathering his paperwork "…that's going to depend on how many more, rigged warehouses we set off."


Chapter 14: All Too Surreal Edit

Everyone is changing, there's no one left that's real, Sso make up your own ending, and let me know just how you feel.

Coz I am lost without you, I cannot live at all, my whole world surrounds you, I stumble and I crawl.

Nobody told me where to hide, nobody told me what to say, no one showed me where to turn, showed me where to run away.

Puddle of Mudd


Chief of Defense,

Colonel Victor Hoffman

ID # 478398

Brune 35, 2 A.E.

To Mrs. Marion Jacqueline McNight,

I regret to inform you that Battalion Commander, Major Jonathan Leon McNight, your husband, was KIA while protecting a medical frigate during an convoy to relocate injured men from an abandoned infirmary at fourteen hundred hours, 26 Brune, 2 A.E.

My condolences are extended to you and your daughter, Eloise, and although my attempt to bring you ease may not beguile you from the anguish of your loss, consider the lives saved by your husband's sacrifice at what seemed to be a perilous attempt. The valor in which Major McNight displayed is an inspiration to all that which all Gears seek to stand for in this grossly conflict against an ever, diligent enemy.

With regards,

Hoffman


"They moved everything around Lieutenant…"

…Captain Miller nagged from his seat next to the coffee table at the command center's lounge, sipping on a lukewarm cup of coffee.

"I tried finding the board room but they moved it to the second floor. They completely remodeled the place…since when did we manage to scrounge up the funding for that?"

Lieutenant Anya Stroud could only sigh, listening to her long-time colleague gripe for a change, which wasn't Millers' usual forte; something must have happened today that put him in a foul mood, she figured.

"Well, it does give the guys in maintenance something to do. Besides, nothing seems to freshen up a room than a new coat of paint."

Miller could only chuckle,

"…and get high on the latex fumes; especially since we're low on the usual musings around here. Although I can mention several ways to freshen up any room that doesn't involve painting," Miller hinted while taking another sip at his cup. Stroud could only raise a brow at the ever so subtle Miller, fully aware of his reputation as being easy on the eyes while flashing a smug grin that could swoon the more hardened of shrews.

"…and I'm sure the Colonel would agree to that sentiment?" she conceded.

"Pfft, if he hasn't already," Miller contended.

"And what are you implying, exactly?"

"Well, ever since old lady Mataki resurfaced, I swear I saw a twinkle in the old man's eyes."

Anya laughed out loud, normally taking Miller's suggestions as being rhetorical, but this one time, she found it to be rather quaint.

She had noticed a change in the old man ever since Bernie came back into service, despite Hoffman's disapproval, in which there were times she had heard him insisting the old lady Sergeant to stay off the frontline and avoid anymore field duties. Bernie had already suffered several sprained ankles, arthritis in the wrists, and more shrapnel cuts than the old woman would ever admit to him. It was as if Hoffman was doing his best to keep Bernie out of the line of fire any chance he had at his disposal, but Mataki would always find a way to end up back into the grind.

But as of recent, Hoffman's concerns have been on the events of late, not to mention Feral diplomacy that was standing on the edge of a fine knife.

"I take it you got my transcript, yesterday?" Anya asked.

"That I did Lieutenant. I left just in time before the natives back at the reservation started to sharpen their claws."

"You believe the Feral will retaliate?"

"I'm not sure. Old hag Paroux is one wily woman. Just when I think I have her figured out, she's got ten different contingencies already planned out and executed with pristine precision. I swear, that woman has got to be telepathic."

"The head…matriarch, is it?" Anya asked in pure curiosity.

"Reverend Mother, actually. Matriarch's are more like clan leaders to represent the Feral council…mostly the older and more experienced women of the clans, with Paroux being one of, ifnot, the eldest."

"So, what's it like being surrounded by a bunch of, wild women, all day?" Anya mused, wondering if Miller's new assignment was all that he had hoped for; to be surrounded by self-sufficient women who's primary orthodox includes procreation.

"Regardless of what you may perceive, Lieutenant, believe me when I say that I'm not exactly in my element."

"Hmmp, I find that a little hard to believe Captain."

"It's true. Ask Spades…he's been given the evil eye several times a day. I'm telling you, Stroud; these women can make hell in a hand basket! Give them enough shit to make their own napalm, I'm willing to bet they wouldn't think twice about marching their bare asses to the main gate and set it alight!"

"Have they been hostile to you, or the other Gears stationed there?"

"No, but there's no denying that there's something in the air…and it's not love, darling," Miller grumbled as he took another sip of his coffee.

"Maybe the Colonel intentionally assigned you there to give the place a little loving," Anya chuckled slightly.

"Shea, if only," Miller mused, knowing that he hadn't made much progress in the few days he was there, so he rebutted, "…but it's only been a few days, Lieutenant."

"Yea, and here you are, griping about the accommodations, and then just out of the blue, you drive all the way over here just to get an inquiry from Major Reid."

"Yea, that just made my morning all grand and peachy."

Anya let out a laugh at Miller's unique means of sarcasm. Although she's heard the more blunt and crude means of sarcasm that Corporal Baird would be known to entertain, but Miller was a master at his choice of words and euphemisms. It was a talent that has landed the Captain in a bed or two…or three…four…

"Speaking of which, how is the Colonel's little brat, I mean Eloise?" Miller sneered, "…I swear that man's lost more hair lately since he's been involved in her reassignment. It's as if he owe's her something."

"I don't…talk to her much. I just know what only the Colonel reports to me and to Dr. Ramses."

"Well, the old man wasn't lying when he said to watch her carefully."

"What do you mean? Has she done anything unconventional?" Anya rhetorically gasped.

"Let me put it this way; if she had the means to reprogram my coffee maker into a scolding water shooter, she'd do it in a heartbeat."

"Ok, now what gives you that idea?"

"During a brief conference, she made it rather clear with a few choice words that she would turn my computer terminal into a egg broiler, just out of spite."

"So she intended to turn your desktop into a microwave? I would think of that as being in ingenious. You can now cook your food and work on your desktop at the same time."

"…until my dick falls off from overexposure to the radiation," Miller comically mused and Anya followed it with laughter, "…I swear, I don't know how Sigma was able to keep up with her, much less put up with her."

"Or maybe she toned it down for them," Anya perceived, knowing that Sigma's then Feral guide was the first to sacrifice herself for their welfare, "…or maybe it was the other way around; maybe she had to put up with them."

"Ok, granted D's infamous repertoire can give anyone a hernia, but still…"

"…and you know Cole enjoyed every minute of it."

"Yea, so he's said for the umpteenth time."

It was something that Cole would never stop talking about, given the right amount of beer involved. And although Baird would never fess up to it, there was a time that his expression behind his detached blue gaze would give himself away, but only when Anya asked him about it for a report analysis. Despite his aloof front that would level most people, it was that one time that she could remember the sour Damon Baird was off his guard. So he's not that impassive after all.

As the cool, tense atmosphere in the lounge hovered in tranquility, the sudden announcement of "breaking news" disturbed the calm poise as the flat-screen television that was displayed in the corner of the lounge, sounded off noisily with it's usual, "breaking news" jingle.

"Oh come on! What the hell's going on now?" Miller groaned in dismay.

"Shhhh, " Anya hushed him gently as the news anchor came to screen.

"This just in; A documented, renegade UIR submarine has docked at the Vectus Naval port, East of Vectus Naval base as of ten hundred hours this morning."

"Say what?" Miller bellowed.

"The AWAL vessel, and its' crew have surfaced near the Vectus shore under a flag of ceasefire. So far there has been no hostilities coming from the vessel, a UIR Stingray class submarine that was hijacked by its' crew a few years following E-day."

"Wait, are they referring to Poseidon's Spear?"

"Who?" Anya asked.

"That was the name of a UIR submarine that went AWAL by it's own assigned crew, under the command of some Lieutenant when the Captain died on duty. They've been on the UIR pirate list for awhile now…"

"…the commander of the vessel has agreed to surrender it's munitions to the COG under a flag of truce. Further details are pending as to why after fourteen years, the assault vessel has chosen to surrender."

"Oh damn! It looks like I'm not going back to Retreat quite yet after all," Miller chimed with glee.

"Lieutenant Stroud…report back to the command center, ASAP…" Miatheson could be heard blaring from Anya's headset.

"Yea, well it looks like coffee break is over for me. I better get back to command," Anya announced as she gathered her files from the table before standing up from her chair.

"But I don't suppose I could talk you into having dinner with me a little later, when some of this mess is sorted out…but only if Sergeant Fenix is on duty," Miller winked at the coy Lieutenant.

"We'll see about that Captain," Anya let out a smug grin before exiting the lounge.

Leaning back in his chair, Miller redirected his attention back to the newscaster on the television, placing his hands behind his head as he lounged in his chair, contemplating the events of late.

Yep, it's going to be an interesting week.


Vectus Naval Base docking station...

"We've got fully armed, U-boats with at least a missile capacity of eight warheads, an assembly of torpedoes, and God knows what else, making a friendly house call at our front door and suddenly, without raising a single finger, they want to surrender their vessel in exchange for truce? What's next, dogs and cats living together? I'm telling you, this situation has FUBAR written all over it…" an antsy Baird nagged to a glum Marcus Fenix, walking along the wooden trail as they rally to the port where the sub was at dock.

"Maybe they got some intel, some information in exchange for sanction…" Marcus replied, slowing his pace before he noticed in the distance, the "sub commander" standing next to Captain Michealson and two other squadrons.

"Sanction from what, the fucking boogieman? Davy Jones?" Baird continued to gripe, walking subtly; trying not to show his limp despite a sequence of stitches he had on the back of his thigh that was irritating the hell out of him.

"Past war crimes, I guess. They've been harassing UIR destroyers, not to mention a few of our own, stealing armaments and supplies."

"Shea, like the Pelruan is going to let that blow over!"

"Hmmm," Marcus grumbled in return, not quite ready to discern Baird's notion, but not contradicting it either. How is Trescu going to take this if we intend to harbor these pirates?

"Speaking of which, how are you holding up?" Marcus asked out of the blue.

"Why the hell you ask? Why wouldn't I be alright?" Baird tired not to cringe.

"Well, only the other day you've came a few feet from being blown all to hell, and I know for a fact you didn't wear your armor…"

"Ok yea, I'm fine, so there's no need to get all sentimental on me like you do with Dom!"

"Whatever you say," Marcus grumbled.

"I just…damnit…" Baird growled before taking a moment to shake his leg, "…I'm having to deal with stitches they put in the back of my thigh, ok?"

"I bet that itches like hell."

"Yea, it does…not to mention those bastards at the infirmary proceeded to give me a goddamn proctoscopy. A proctoscopy! Since when did removing shrapnel from my leg involve a fucking proctoscopy?"

"So that's why you're walking funny," Marcus couldn't help but to snicker at Baird's predicament.

"Fuck you Fenix…" Baird grumbled as he tried to keep his posture straight, despite the stitches rubbing up against seam of his pants.

"Lemme guess, they saw that you were diagnosed with hemorrhoids while you were under, right?" Marcus subtly prodded, knowing that Baird was the last person to ever go to the doctor for anything.

"Yea…" Baird groaned, wincing as he was walking, feeling the cramping in his sphincter all over again. He had intentionally avoided going in for treatment, knowing they were going to prescribe him some steroid-based ointment that he would have to apply rectally, which was not foremost on his list of pleasantries.

"Well, I hear Ellie will be out soon…so you better straighten yourself up befoer the real shit hits the fan," Marcus conveniently mentioned.

"Say who?" Baird stuttered

"Goddamnit Baird, Raven! Eloise Raven McNight."

"Alright alright, I didn't know she went by that name, ok?"

"Yea, she hates being called that."

"Is that right?"

"It probably would be in your better interest not time to piss her off right now, Baird…"

"Why not? She's funny when she's getting her panties all balled up in a wade, especially since I'm going to be doing shit assignments for the rest of the week!"

"Which brings me to inform you that Hoffman wants you in the debriefing room today, at fourteen hundred hours."

Marcus could hear Baird audibly grumble as the news of him going to the conference room was not high in his already assembled to-do list.

"Shit, what the hell did y'all blame for now?" Baird griped.

"Actually, Hoffman just reinstated a demolition forensist to help with the recent bombings that have been going on, including the one that nearly took you out."

"Seriously? I mean, really?" Baird had to re-clarify, coming to believe what he had just heard.

The idea of a specialist coming aid in solving the "mystery" as to whom was setting up random bombings set off an internal radar in Baird's subliminal instinct. Holy crap, this must be alot bigger than what the newscast is letting on.

Finally coming to the end of the port where the submarine was docked, Marcus and Baird joined the crew standing along with Captain Michealson, waiting for their arrival to escort the crew of the Poseidon's Spear.

"Gentlemen," Captain Michealson called out to the two Gears approaching the Captain and his newfound company, "…I would like to introduce you to the former, UIR Lieutenant Anita Sokolov, the remaining commander of the Poseidon's Spear."

Marcus looked down on the rather petite Lieutenant, a woman of small but confident stature. Her dark hair was roughly cropped in contrast to her pale face, which alluded to the notion that she spent most of her recent years in the submarine and less time out in the sun, most likely tending to her own hair and hygiene with whatever vices they kept on the ship, and it probably wasn't much.

Baird could instantly tell that she was a bonofide squidy, judging by that same stench many naval officers accumulate after spending too many days in their vessels, not to mention the deep-set color in their sunken eyes, which was even more so with Anita. Her green pupils were like two holes in the snow, but her lips were a ripened, pinkish hue, which suggested the amount of seafood they had been ingesting for a long period of time.

"I don't suppose she would care to explain the recent attacks we've had on a few trawlers and an UIR tanker earlier this week?" Marcus began with Michealson, keeping his gaze on the Lieutenant.

"I've already briefed her on the situation and she claims she knows nothing of any attack on a tanker, much less a trawler," Michealson replied.

"Is that so?" Marcus grumbled to himself in a low, grinding voice. The Indie Lieutenant didn't respond to Marcus' insinuation, but she didn't let him off without a stern gaze either.

Baird did the best he could not to ogle the little woman, or at least get caught catching a glance at her shearing UIR navy uniform. She wore a navy blue pea-coat with her rank and combat submergence insignia stitched onto the front, along with several other insignia's, one representing a submarine force command and a "distinguished" small arms marksmanship badge, only to be complimented by the side arm that hung snugly on her compartment belt, strapped on her hip. Her ribbons displayed an array of combat and campaign commendations, including a few from the Pendulum Wars; I bet this chick and her commanding officer sunk a few COG ships during the Pendulum Wars, Baird could only assume. He was somewhat familiar with the UIR badges and ribbons from his brief deployment during the latter year of the Pendulum War, but the Human/Locust has since defined his extensive, perhaps exhausting military career.

He could feel her ascetic ogling that could weigh down a two-ton backhoe, but her heavily accented, mellow voice was even the more firm.

"I want ta see da one in charge," she spoke in a heavy accent, articulating the vowels and slurring the consonants.

Michealson rubbed the newly grown stubble on his chin, giving the hint to Marcus that he had already been through this fiasco with the relentless woman. It was apparent that she was not going to be satisfied, much less cooperative unless she had company with "the man in charge."

"Ma'am, we can't just take you to the Chairman until we have received confirmation from my superior officer…" Marcus began before Lieutenant Sokolov interrupted,

"If you or any one for dat matter, value his life, or da life of others, as yer so-called politician has asserted, den you will take me to yer commanding officer, and you will get me an audience wit your leader!"

Marcus could feel the Lieutenant's forceful gaze reaffirm her demand, almost cutting through the men that were standing in earshot next to the little woman in tattered, naval fatigues with a double barrel pistol in a holster that was snug against her leg. She's used to giving men orders, so she's definitely not going to back down on this one, Marcus thought to himself. Letting out a sigh before reaching over to his makeshift com mike that was duct-taped to his shoulder plate, Marcus turned over his shoulder to get a glance of the other sailors before speaking into his com unit.

"Miatheson, do you read, over…"

"Affirmative Sergeant, over…"

"Get Hoffman. He's going to wanna hear this one."


Looking out of the window through the opened, tattered blinds, Raven sat on the edge of her hospital bed, waiting for new clothes since her latter wardrobe was torn into shreds, not that she was complaining; I hated that dress anyway.

The afternoon sun peeked into the room, it's rays illuminating the dull gray walls from its drab seams that are often displayed under the bland florescent bulbs above. It was a typical hospital room if Raven ever saw one, which in this case, would make it the second time in a week.

Although normally she would be in the most foul of moods, the medication prescribed by the psychiatrist earlier that day made her a bit more docile than usual. It was one of the means the COG subjected her to keeping the "Feral Consulate" reserved and her tongue tamed, but Raven had already contemplated another agenda as she fiddled with her thoughts, putting contingencies in the works. Once defiant, always defiant, she could remember her foster father say, but don't let arrogance cloud your mind, or you will lose site of your original directive.

Reminiscing her childhood memories once again, she could picture her father vividly. He was a striking man whom always seemed to keep himself groomed, even after a long week out on the field; he always kept his light brown hair trimmed and his face would seldom display the five-o'clock shadow. She could remember the way he smelled, his natural body odor mixed with his aftershave after a long day on the field, or the faint stubble on his chin against her forehead when she would run up to hug him, feel his arms lift her up effortlessly into his brace. She could recall his deep, soothing voice that would calm her when she was under duress, whether it would be trouble at school or the other kids picking on her.

When she was with him, she felt secure, safe, and yet, confined at the same time. She never could put her finger on it, but it was as if she was serving a life sentence in a up-kept rose garden. It wasn't unpleasant by any means, but there was little room for her to spread her wings. She wanted wide-open spaces, to leap over the gate and wander without parameter. Perhaps this was the reason the Feral life fit her like a glove, rather than being subjected to the discipline that was expected of her in class or at Sunday school. Raven was compelled to fulfill that yearning desire that can only be found in adventure.

There was so much that her father had taught her, but once there was nothing else that he could teach her, she sought for answers elsewhere. That's when she learned how to hack into computer systems, starting with her school's database.

She discovered that untapped thrill of breaking into a network system without getting caught, or breaching past a firewall or a security measure, just to satisfy that sense of excitement. Once that edge became lackluster, she moved on to bigger fish, such as the library archive, the courthouse transcripts, and eventually the COG restricted database. With so many classified information and so little time to penetrate further for the more juicy stuff, Raven had thought she found a gold mine. All the political scandals one could ever want to know was all wrapped in one big present with a bow on top. There were more secrets in the archives than Raven could access at a time, and even then it was too numerous to infiltrate and read them all.

Unfortunately, the truths behind those closed doors only made her the more suspicious and pessimistic when it concerned any authority, but especially the COG. She even became leery of her own foster father, the late Major McNight, when she discovered a classified archive of closed cases he was working on as the prosecuting attorney for the Coalition for a short time. He worked a handful of court martial hearings as a result of several extensive, internal investigations that were dismissed for unknown reasons, which alluded to Raven that someone had already deleted some of those files shortly after the transcripts were put into the database. Someone had already hacked into this thing long before I have, she could only guess. But this only made the intel even the more suspicious, only to be thrown onto the backburner of her USB memory card, along with a log of countless classified information she had collected over the past few years, embedded under a special code she had customized herself in the event if she was to ever misplace it; which in this case was now in Baird's possession. Oh well, it's not like he's going to be able to crack the code any time soon anyway, which she knew he hadn't.

The sound of her door being opened yanked her from her thoughts as she turned around to find the nurse bringing in a plastic bag filled with clothes.

"We were able to find these, according to your measurements, Madame Consulate," she said while placing the bag on the table next to bed.

"And shoes?" Raven asked in a raspy tone, straining her sore cords.

"Those were not as easy to find, and despite your request for work boots, the Gears have first pickings on any work-related attire and safety equipment."

Like I didn't see that one coming, Raven groaned to herself.

"However, I was able to get a work apron you requested, and a tool bag with several compartments for specialized tools and hardware," the nurse said before placing the vinyl stitched bag next to the bag of clothes.

Well that's a hell of a lot better than the duffle bag I had before; this whole thing may not be so bad after all.

"Thank…you," Raven managed to squeak out, despite having a dry mouth and parched throat; another convenient side effect from the anxiety meds her psychiatrist prescribed her.

"I was also informed by the Colonel that you are to report to the command center immediately after discharge…" the nurse made a point to mention.

Just as sudden, the sunlit brightness in the room suddenly started to fade away, leaving only the dull, synthetic lighting coming from the florescent bulbs above. Just when Raven thought that things would be a little brighter, a dark cloud comes strolling over her head once again…

Dad can't save me from this one…fuck.


Chapter 15: The Devil's Advocate Edit

Come and see me, can't you see me, It's so easy, to believe in you, I believed in you...

Your attention, my addiction, fear no evil, You'll be safe in here…I was saved in here.

Walk the narrow, straight and narrow, Look behind me , there's a light out there, In your light I stare.

And fools shine on, when fools shine on…

…Where your eyes won't open, fade or divide, Peace from your darkest hours, bathe in your light.

~Brother Cane~[9]


"If this hasn't moved up to a top priority objective, then we need to escalate it thereof, starting now…

…Hoffman insisted, standing before a composed Chairman Prescott, along with Captain Quentin Michaelson and the Gorasni de-facto leader, Commander Trescu, going over the events of late at the cost of one kelp trawler, several Gears units, one Gorasni convoy, and nearly taking out the Feral consulate as well one of the COG's last remaining techheads, not to mention undocumented civilian casualties as a result of suicide bombers…

"…and to reiterate what has happened since this morning," a heated Commander Trescu abruptly resumed for the Colonel, "…it would appear that you are harboring UIR pirates under your sanction, specifically the crew of the Stingray class vessel that is responsible for the destruction of UIR property, three battleships, and countless Imulsion rigs! As far as the Gorasni is concerned, I demand you release those traitors to us so that we may serve justice as the people of Pelruan see fit!"

"Rest assured you that we do not intend to harbor pirates or any terrorist from justice for that matter, Commander…however…"

"Then you are to release those men to us, Chairman!" Trescu interrupted.

"Just as soon as we confirm their intentions, Commander, then we can discuss releasing them to your jurisdiction, Trescu," Colonel Hoffman snapped in an ever-growing frustration since his untimely exchange with the Poseidon's commanding officer, Anita Sokolov, earlier that afternoon.

"What is there to confirm from a group of traitors, Colonel? Is it not by your own laws that all those found guilty of treason of the Coalition are to be subjected to capital punishment? Do you not believe that we intend to hold the same accountable to the people of the UIR?" Trescu upped the ante with accusations of his own.

Sitting adjacent to three men as they continued to bicker intensely over the events of late was Chief Medic, Dr. Isabel Hayman, Head of Mortuary Processing, Dr. Peter Ramses, and a speechless Lieutenant Stroud. Although the Lieutenant was by now, used to the Colonels' heated exchanges amongst the other commanding officers, but his patience with Prescott's diplomatic solutions as of late was just one more straw on the camel's back, and for the time being, she didn't blame him.

For the tranquil Dr. Ramses however, he had seen this kind of thing before as he sat mute with a cup of coffee he managed to brew in the lounge before the remaining field medic, Gerard Grimes inhaled it all. With a knife sharpened pencil in his other hand, he resumed to writing his inquiry notes on his notepad since finding a reliable secretary to do all his typing for him wasn't easy to keep, much less find, especially if it involved sitting in the freezing bowels of the Vectus mortuary with nothing but the stench of formaldehyde to keep you awake in the morning.

Hayman however, was sitting erect in her chair with the case folder of her most recent, trauma patients, lying neatly on the boardroom table as she tapped the table with her fingers, waiting on Prescott to receive her final report for the day. The ornery, old hag doctor listened to Hoffman express his discomfort with the idea of how lightly the bombings was being handled, while debating with Trescu on the welfare of the Poseidon's Spear's crew…and for the first time in a long time, she agreed completely with Hoffman on both accounts. With only a few members of the crew with a case of scurvy, which was typical for any sailor after being cooped up in a ship for too long, the other hands of the UIR submarine were in relatively decent health. They didn't surrender because of a rapid spreading illness as it was earlier suggested, or a lack in supplies, Hayman mentally deliberated over her notes. No, there is something else…something that scared them so much, they would rather face the expression of scrutiny from their betrayed countrymen, rather than remain at sea, as they have done for the latter eight years.

"I'm trying to run a show here with one foot standing in a bucket full of horseshit, while the other is on a banana peel! You want me to keep Feral relations on the forefront while keeping Trescu informed of every terrorist attack we've encountered, so that the Gorasni can keep a lookout for anything suspicious…and to really top it off, these string of events are anything but coincident, and here you are, telling me to calm down while some crazed, group of leftists is running around, popping off our men, attacking our suppliers, and nearly severing any potential we have with the Nations of Vectus and Feral relations. If we don't quash this little insurrection now, well shit, I can't think of anything else better to do but sit and piss and moan like some infant still lurking for his momma's tit!"

Prescott could only glare at the enraged Colonel, his posture erect and poised, just as any politician would be. Trescu on the other hand sat defiantly mute with his arms crossed while two of his men stood erect behind him, their arms behind their backs.

"Colonel, I am all for giving you any resource and means of dealing with whomever is trying to defile our progress, as well as extend cooperation with the Gorasni, Commander" Prescott gently extended his hand, sitting up in his seat while the enraged Colonel was two seconds from blowing a fuse, "…but we need to keep a secure precedence with the Stranded, especially to those whom are willing to accept amnesty under no false pretense…"

False pretense? Yea, that's a good one there Dick…like anyone with an IQ of eighty, or higher, is going to buy into that, Hoffman grumbled to himself.

With Hoffman's façade nearly drenched in a rage, Captain Michealson stepped up to the plate to quench the tension between the men.

"We already have dispatched several units to investigate the recent attacks, but we can't just barge into every person's home without further spoiling the precedence of peace instead of clinging to martial law, in which you've so humbly claim Chairman," Michealson elaborated to the men, "…furthermore, there is a code of criminal procedure that we must abide by before we release any information concerning any accusations of any subject, whether it be the COG or Gorasni. We don't want to get in the habit of inaccurately accusing civilians based on some theory without probable cause."

"In the present circumstance, I would like to agree Captain, but these attacks are also orchestrated with intent to hinder peace relations," Prescott expressed.

"We don't know that as of yet Chairman, although because of the animosity demonstrated by some activists, that conclusion is well endowed."

"Then by all means gentlemen, access whatever it is you need to remedy this situation. Trust me when I say that you have my complete support," Prescott conceded.

Hoffman redirected his attention to Prescott, "Well, Chairman, excuse me for jumping too soon to conclusions, but within the past five days, I have had little incentive to believe otherwise when I have to come in here to ask for access to all military resources, including the Technical Division dept."

"We don't have a reliable tech dept since the fall of Jacinto, Colonel. Any intel we reliably had was swept away in the flooding, so as far as I'm concerned, Colonel, access to the main terminal should still be within your perimeter…"

"Then give me the needed passwords to get into the main interface, Chairman. You alone have those codes!"

Shortly after Hoffman's request, the door to the meeting room opened wide as a freshly, clean-shaven, Major Quade Haley proceeded to enter the room. The man walked in with his posture erect, reveling in the uniform once again with the abrasions of an old, second hand, armor was still visible, but at least he made a conscience attempt to clean it up and make it presentable for the clergy that made up the group in this very room.

His salt and pepper colored hair was cropped rather neatly; a contrast to the last time Hoffman saw him wading in his sorrows at the bar. Although some scars could still be readily seen, they were even more so on his clean-shaven face and neck. But his most poignant characteristic was his eyes. His blue and icy cold gaze was almost bewitching, so subtle was a glance but it said a thousand words at the same time. It was a look Hoffman could never forget after all these years.

Closing the door quietly behind him, Haley stood erect as he lifted his hand to salute the men in the room. Prescott returned a nod before redirecting his attention back to the Colonel.

"With your permission Chairmen, gentlemen, may I take a seat and present my analysis to you?" Haley spoke in a more crisp tone, which was pale in comparison to his raspy grinding voice Hoffman could remember from their previous encounter.

"Of course soldier, please proceed," said Prescott, extending his hand for invitation. Shortly after, Hoffman sucked up whatever poise he had left and took it upon himself to introduce Haley.

"Chairman, I would like to introduce you to Major Quade, Leviticus Haley, demolition specialist and an authority in forensic chemistry…specifically, the volatile shit that we have encountered as of recent."

"Major if I may," Prescott resumed Hoffman's greeting, "…I extend to you my appreciation for your cooperation in this delicate matter, and to the Colonel for reenlisting you Major, in hopes that we may get this resolved as soon as possible."

A singe could be felt in Hoffman's gut, that same burning he felt thirty years ago when he stood before the then Chairman Dalyell, presenting him with the same gratitude for a job well done. Yea, I'm just the perfect fall guy all over again. A day hadn't gone by since that Hoffman couldn't look at himself in the mirror the same way again.

"Well for once Chairman, I'll agree…" Hoffman humbly grumbled as Major Haley's icy gaze met with Hoffman's before he resumed to taking a seat next to Commander Trescu, whom was, for the most part, intrigued by their new company.

"So as I understand it…Major," Trescu addressed Haley with conceit, "…that you are a specialist in chemical forensic science?"

"That, would be an affirmative," Haley cracked in his reply. He could feel the eyes of the ever so vigilant Colonel, as if the two were bound to a pact that neither could get away, regardless how hard they tried. They both knew too much to shake the boat this early in the game, and yet not enough to act on it.

"If you will Major, please continue with your assessment," Prescott requested.

"As some of you may already know," Haley began to address his attentive audience, "…majority of the findings your so-called investigative team managed to find, indicated that the perpetrators were using a coalite-based material, which can be highly volatile if converted properly, using a catalyst that can produce a temperature high enough to ignite it."

Mumbling was audible in the room, coming to shock at the re-evaluation Major Haley managed to recite to them in intricate, if not delicate detail. Trescu sat on the edge of his seat in anticipation, his attention fixated on the otherwise, obscure Major, if wasn't for the array of badges on his otherwise, drab gray uniform.

"Are you implying that crimson coalite was the primary substance for detonation…which is substance that is, at the present, only being used in aircraft maintenance, and is only volatile at a temperature of 350 degrees Celsius?" Michealson elaborated, somewhat cynical of coalite's volatile properties since it took quite a catalyst to ignite it, especially if such a substance was not readily available.

"As the primary combustible substance, yes…but he catalyst used to ignite was Celetium…"

The boardroom was stirring with mumbling more audibly than before. Dr. Hayman sat with her old eyes wide in disbelief and with a hint of disgust.

"I will have to concur with our, colleague," Hayman was picking her words carefully, "…the burns many of the victims received were clear of life threatening. These people had their limbs melted away, and I'm talking about fingers and toes: I'm referring to an entire leg, sometimes both, with a partial torso! Even some whom managed to survive these incidents with twenty percent burns didn't last long."

Hoffman could hear the singe in the senior doctor's voice. Ever since the last two bombings, Hayman was giving both him and Prescott an earful about the hazards of these coalite concoctions.

Haley continued with his analysis,

"Coalite is a unique substance that was commonly used in the latter years of the Pendulum War. The problem for years was trying to find the means to ignite it, or at least until, by accident, celetium was found to be the better substance."

"And you would know this how, Major?" Trescu asked rather dubiously.

"One of my primary objectives during the Great War, if I may be so bold, was to uncover and eradicate UIR explosive devices, many of which were of similar substances, and if I can recall, was originally invented by some maintenance worker in the UIR air force."

Haley answered Trescu's smug question the best way Hoffman remembered him to always be; directly blunt or callously objective. There was no in-between with the Haley, and it was something that Hoffman could never understand about the man. How could he do the things he did without a clear conscience, but it was a hard fact Hoffman had long accepted.

Trescu wasn't the least bit amused about the Major bringing up old wounds, but he listened objectively while Captain Michealson posted the facts to the forefront.

"That's a rather enlightening history lesson Major, however, the bomb that took out our storage house, and one of our men, was triggered by a switch when he opened up the door…" the cynical Captain brought to light.

"Yes Captain, that is accurate as detailed in the report the Colonel has provided to me…" Haley continued, searching through the papers in a manila folder, fishing between an array of papers before pulling out the report in question. The Major was articulate and impassive as he pulled out the analysis report to place it on the table before the men and women in the room.

"…as the Captain mentioned, the investigation crew uncovered a device that was attached to the door, subsequently causing a chain reaction to the material that was actually already on trigger, which in this case was not coalite induced, but natural gas."

"Elaborate if you pleas, Major…" Prescott requested.

"There was evidence of a gas leak from inside the warehouse prior to detonation, according to a report by an arson investigator. For the moment, I can only presume the leak was intentionally provided by a puncture in the main pipeline of the building, which is prevalent in a photo right here…"

Digging into his file again, Quade pulled out a color copy of the original photo and placed it on the table. The Major continued,

"As you can see, there is a puncture in the main gas line of the building. The direct entry, forcing the metal around the puncture inward suggests a blunt object striking the pipe from the outside; a crowbar possibly or hatchet. In either case, whoever did this had the intent of allowing the gas to fill the room, allowing enough of the flammable material to set off a massive explosion as it apparently did, killing the person whom opened the door…whom by the way, most likely died from the impact of the door that had bludgeoned him the moment the gas ignited. Now, natural gas, as we all know, is very flammable, but it would have taken a grossly, compacted amount to set off the building like it did, which suggests that the gas had to have been leaking at least overnight, or eight hours, giving it enough time for it to fill up the warehouse."

"So what you are saying Major is that whoever set this up, intentionally exposed the inner building by allowing the natural gas to feed into the facility, most likely the day before, using some sort of explosive trigger to ignite it in the event someone was to open the door?" Prescott analyzed.

"That would be an affirmative, Chairman."

"So are we dealing with an isolated case concerning the bombing of the storage building?"

"I cannot as of yet come to that conclusion without further investigation, but one thing is of certain…"

"And what is that Major?"

"Whoever did this was articulate in setting this up, which alludes to me that this person must have had some knowledge in electrical wiring, natural gas, and is possibly familiar with public utilities."

"Now what exactly brought you to that conclusion Major?"

"Because somebody managed to break into a locked-up electrical meter to the warehouse before detonation, and the apparatus used in the trigger device was constructed solely for this purpose."

"Regardless of how some asshole managed to put this together, it is apparent that whoever did this is trying to making a statement!" Hoffman sneered.

"For once Colonel, I am inclined to agree," Prescott had finally, openly admitted.


A little later at the Command Center...

Baird decided to forego the elevator this time and instead, took the stairs, darting every other step as far as his already sore legs could take him. Unfortunately his pants were irritating the seams to the stitches on the back of his thigh, causing it to catch onto the fabric of his fatigues. Cussing to himself, he stopped for a moment to pull the loosely fitting pants from his sensitive skin, detaching the stitches away of the fibers like velcro.

Resuming back to climbing the flight of stairs before coming to the entrance of the third floor, Baird yanked the door open to briskly enter the hallway, hoping to catch the Colonel before he left from his meeting with Prescott. With luck, Baird managed to meander the other staff walking in the hallway before he caught sight of the Colonel, talking with Lieutenant Stroud.

It wasn't long before Hoffman caught a glimpse of Baird, trying to make his way over to the boardroom entrance, giving the fatigued Corporal a nod of acknowledgment…can't miss that boy's glowing head of hair, the Colonel mused to himself.

"Lieutenant, if you would excuse me?" Hoffman asked Miss Stroud.

"Of course Colonel…I'll update you on Dr. Ramses progress immediately upon request," Anya beamed to the old man.

"Thank you Lieutenant," Hoffman acknowledged before Anya left the old Colonel to tie up whatever loose ends the Colonel intended to address before the day was done. After a long session of listening to Trescu rant about their recent apprehended company and Major Haley's forensic inquiry, the day couldn't end soon enough.

Just as Baird managed to approach the Colonel, Hoffman pushed through the crowd to address the flustered Corporal.

"Corporal, if you could meet me in my office, I'll get to you in a minute…" Hoffman bellowed out over the noise of the staff meandering in the spaces between the two men. Feeling the weight of his already burdening load just get heavier, Baird gave the Colonel a fatigued nod before turning right back around to push through the on-coming crowd all over again; fuck, what did I do this time?

The only time any superior officer would ever meet with him in the privacy of their office usually involved a reprimand or some over-extensive lecture on self-discipline about something as non-sensible as forgetting to fill the coffee pot when he was the last person to use it, or putting the toilet seat down after use in the officers lounge. In either case, it was never good, but for whatever reason Baird seemed to find solace in it; any means he could out-wit or out smart a superior officer would put a smile on his face, especially when he was getting his balls chewed off. It wasn't something he hadn't had to deal with before; in fact, it was an nearly an everyday occurrence when he would get stared down by his snooty mother as if he was the family dog that peed on the rug.

But Hoffman would make an admirable challenge, especially since this was the guy who gave Fenix hell for nearly six years before they finally let bygones be bygones after their heated confrontation in the infirmary a year back. On the way to Hoffman's office, Baird psyched himself up for an ass chewing, not just any ass chewing, but the kind that only Marcus Fenix could entertain. That alone was probably the only thing Baird could look forward to for the day.

Finally getting passed the crowd and into Hoffman's already open office, Baird stepped in with his tool bag slung over his shoulder, stretching the back of his leg after having to pamper it from the stitches constantly tugging along his fatigues. Dropping his bag onto the floor, Baird let out a long sigh before feeling the strain along the back of his neck dissipate after carrying his bag for over an hour. Rubbing the gape between the base of his head and neck, he leaned back to relieve his cervical vertebrae from the exertion.

Shit…I must have slept wrong in that bed, Baird moped. Ever since his discharge from the hospital, his neck and left shoulder was obnoxiously sore.

Straightening back up as he gazed at the freshly painted office, he soon noticed a tattered cardboard box sitting square in the middle of Hoffman's desk…a rather weird place to put a box on a desk where anyone could just rummage through it, he instantly thought. Leaning over the desk, he noticed a stack of newspaper cutouts and old photos, taking a glance at the metal picture frame of a couple on what appeared to be their wedding day.

"Damn…so the old man had hair after all," Baird mused to himself, finding it awkward to actually see Hoffman smiling, even in a picture.

Hoffman reminded him so much of his own grandfather; a bastard of a man whom never smiled, even in the face of life's pleasantries. The only difference was that Baird couldn't imagine anything for the Colonel to smile about. With the world sinking further into the toilet after decades and decades of warfare, only to burn off the face of the planet in last-ditch effort to salvage a piss poor excuse for whatever civilization they had left, what was there to smile about?

His thoughts were suddenly interrupted as Hoffman stormed into the room, taking off his hat before closing the door behind him.

"Take a seat, Corporal, this is going to be awhile," Hoffman grumbled. Baird could tell the man was ready to wrap the end of a perfect day; rhetorically speaking.

Yea, the old man's in a pissy mood…just perfect.

"Before I even begin, I need to ask you a few questions son…" Hoffman began as he dropped his hat on the desk, next to the tattered box as he stood from behind the desk, "…so how're you holding up, Corporal?"

"I'm holding…sir" Baird answered briefly and grudgingly, somewhat at a loss as to why the Colonel asked. Come to think of it, why is everyone asking me that?

"Well that's good to know, cause I'm going to need you get on the ball here, starting with this communication fiasco we've been hammering with…which brings me to question number two; what did you and Ellie figure out, or at least before you two ended up in the hospital?"

"She…had long mentioned that it was probably a software issue…" Baird began as he felt the bitter ogling coming from the old man's tired eyes; I better get to the point or else I'm going to end up being demoted to the barracks' toilet paper dispenser, "… but Rav…I mean, Raven, managed to at least isolate a possible access sequence in the program…"

"Which means that it is an issue with the software…"

"Yes, and no."

"Ok, so what the hell does that mean Corporal?" Hoffman groaned before he let out a extensive sigh, just realizing he was taking his long, embattled day on the Corporal, "…ok, pardon my shitty mood; it's been a long week…but you were saying?"

"There's a glitch, but it wasn't because of the original programming."

"Wait…you mean to tell me, something, or someone, screwed up the original programming?"

"Sigh, potentially yes. Something, or maybe even someone tampered with the programming, so the sequence is not running like it should, causing inconstancies which in turn…"

"…is causing the occasional rift in communications, goddamnit!" Hoffman growled as he slumped into his chair, leaning hard against the wooden frame, "…well, considering the little time you two have had to work on this, that's quite a find Corporal. If I wasn't such a callous bastard, I'd have you commended."

A wave of misconstruing just blew right through Baird's head, reassessing the immediate situation he wasn't prepared to manage.

"So…I'm, not being demoted?"

"Much to your disappointment son, you're rank is secure," Hoffman lectured, "…furthermore, you and Ellie are to resume fixing this problem first thing tomorrow."

Baird wasn't too disappointed, but indifferent at the same time. Nevertheless, if there was an opportunity to place the odds in his favor, now was the time and Baird decided to make the most of it while.

"If the situation is that dire, I can make the needed repairs rather sooner than later, but I'll need more help within certain conditions…"

"Are we setting terms now, Corporal?" Hoffman mused with a slight smug, the only smile the Colonel was able to force out for a week now.

"…just making a request in order to speed up the process…sir."

Hoffman leaned back in his chair, propping his knee up over his leg while folding his hands in his lap.

"All right Corporal, I'm listening."

"I would like Private Augustus Cole to help me get this piece of… antiquated equipment up and working…and if the aforementioned leave is still on the table, I would like Cole to also receive time off once we get this thing resolved, sir."

Hoffman felt a choke of sincerity coming from the otherwise, rhetorical Corporal Baird; something he wished he could have recorded for posterity. Although Hoffman wasn't keen on the idea of dispensing additional manpower to the project, the younger man did bring up an interesting point. The sooner we get this fixed, the more resources we can put elsewhere for more better use instead of having the new recruits with walkie-talkies, standing around the communication tower with their thumb up their ass when they're supposed to be guarding the main gate!

"Alright son. I'll grant you this one time…but I have some conditions of my own."

Baird could feel the collar of his shirt tightening at the very mention of Hoffman's infamous stipulations; the one's that Baird could recall Marcus chewing on the bone every time he would get a call from the command center.

"Yes…sir," Baird could barely muster.

"I have re-enlisted an old Pendulum vet; a specialist if you will, in chemical forensics…"

"Like a demolition specialist?"

"That was one of his earlier trades, but his chemical engineering background made him the perfect candidate for the objective we enacted at the time."

"For what?"

"It's complicated…"

"Ok, so what does having a chemical forensist for our makeshift, "bomb squad" have to do with me?"

"Major Quade Haley may be an exceptional forensic chemist as well as a soldier, but he's also a bastard," Hoffman elaborated in his usual repertoire that involved him clenching his jaw. Baird could tell that the old man didn't like this guy.

"Ok, so you think he's an asshole…"

"Careful Corporal…I don't think, I know the man's an asshole."

"…and you're inquiring to me for a specific reason?"

"Back in the Pendulum days during operation Landstrike, we lost a lot of vehicles due to the road bombings and the Indie war tanks. We didn't have reliable schematics of the area at the time and we had little intel to go on when we went in. Do you remember reading about the battle in Versailles?"

"Yea, the only reason the Cog was able to take over that heavily, fortified staging area was because of UIR spies…UIR defects the COG managed to conveniently employ."

"That's right Corporal. The defects' identities have been changed and took refuge in Eupheria under COG sanction for their services. However, they're identities were erased for security measures, even after the UIR declared a ceasefire."

"So what does this have to do with…wait…"

"Major Quade Haley is one of those UIR defects you just mentioned, Corporal."

Baird's expression shifted into disbelief, not realizing that the COG continued to keep these UIR traitors under their midst, even behind the facade of Prescott's means to diplomacy with Pelruan.

"So I'm willing to bet that Trescu has no clue about this guy's native affiliation…and that this guy has been in covert, handing over UIR classified information for who knows for how long, and we're still fitting the bill for this, and I quote, "asshole's" sanction?"

"That is the overall query Corporal. Like I said, it's complicated."

"So I take it I'm supposed to keep a lid on it?"

"That would be appreciative Corporal, but that is not my initial request. As of now, I am officially transferring Eloise McNight from Sergeant Jacquin supervision, to yours," Hoffman signed off as he sat back up and began to write on a carbon paper that was already lying on the desk, "…and I need you to report to me after curfew about Eloise' whereabouts and overall welfare."

Baird's shoulders slumped.

"So…you're assigning me to be her permanent babysitter," he groaned.

"It's still temporary; I've just extended your assignment concerning her welfare, that's all."

Initially staggered by the old man's ease by the Corporal's rhetoric, Baird just stood there jaw-dropped, not exactly sure if he should be mad about the idea of having to expend his days, looking after Raven's cranky ass, making sure she doesn't do anything rash or ecstatic, but it would give him more opportunities to pick at her brain some more, or get put into reprimand if she was to get out and hack back into command's mainframe.

"Permission to speak, sir," Baird grumbled as he started to rub his sinuses.

"Go ahead, Corporal…"

"What was the point of revealing supposedly classified information about Major Haley?" said Baird while gesturing quotation marks. Hoffman gently put his pen down on the desk.

"I also want to make this very clear with you, with no exceptions…"

Baird listened intensively, despite the ever-growing headache he would develop at the very mention of anything having to do with Raven. It wasn't so much that she was too difficult for him to handle as it was keeping his own sentiments chain-locked in a box that he would secure in his intellectual vault; the one place he repeatedly stash away any emotional penchant of any kind. His ever-so famous excursion in Glacier Valley had chiseled his regard of Raven into memory, for the better or for worse. Hoffman continued as his once seemingly caressing glare fell under his hard, stern brow,

"…you will be asked to assist the major with the pending investigation as well as look after the Feral Consulate. However, Madame Feral, Eloise McNight, is not to have any contact with Major Haley at any time for any reason, whatsoever. Is that clear Corporal?"

A blur suddenly swept over Baird's conscience, oblivious as to the reason how or why, but the firm glare fixating to Baird's bemused expression was never clearer.

"…crystal…"

"Furthermore," Hoffman continued as his glare was still just as equally rigid, "…she is not to look at him, nor give any means of a passing glance…"

Ok, now just how in the hell am I supposed to do that, Baird pondered to himself, but didn't dare say it out loud. He simply responded with his usual, dulled retort he had often utilized since his elementary days when he was coerced into submitting a response that would keep his mother's, hand-picked tutors off his back, regardless if he liked the session or not. Most of the time, he didn't.

"Yes sir…" he grumbled.

"Good lad. I'll be sure to get Ellie's ornery butt out of bed so she can meet you in the coffee shop next to the command center. From there, I'll have it to where you can have access to any of the technical equipment needed in the tech department in the building on the second floor. The last thing we want is for you to walk into another hornet's nest at an unsecured storage building."

"Gee…thanks sir."

"I'll be working to getting your request, which I may be able to access by at least at the end of the day, maybe by noon if I can get Major Reid to pull his head out of his ass and process a lead we have on the investigation."

"We actually have a lead?" Baird looked up in astonishment.

"That's an affirmative son, which brings me to also point out that you are an official witness and according to the summons, you will be required to assist the investigation."

Another niche to add to my resume'; yay me, Baird could only grumble despite his already displayed pretense, hoping Hoffman wouldn't pick up on his rhetorical view of the entire fiasco, although he was a bit curious as to what the investigation team had managed to pick up ever since Major Haley joined the ranks.

"In the meantime, the sooner you and Ellie get that problem fixed, the better. You're dismissed," Hoffman concluded the meeting with a glance before picking up his hat and placing it back onto his balding head.

Without further delay, Baird took a moment to recollect his thoughts before picking up his tool bag and heading to the door. As he approached the door, he paused for a moment, chewing on a question that was lingering in the back of his mind for the past fifteen minutes.

"Permission to speak, sir…"

Hoffman glanced at the Corporal before resuming to his stack of overdue paperwork.

"What is it, Corporal?"

"What ever happened to the personnel files of those enlisted Indie spies that were in the COG database archive?"

"Expunged, the moment those transcripts were filed away…from birth certificates, to the last known objective was erased."

"…and Haley's?"

Hoffman glared at the Corporal, knowing that Baird was already systematically regrouping the information for his next inquiry.

"The only place anyone, much less Ellie could even have remotely accessed his name in the Jacinto mainframe is in the obituaries."

"Wait…why the obituaries?"

"Because according to the COG intel database, the man's supposed to be dead."


Chapter 16: The Usual Suspects Edit

Out on the front line, don't worry I'll be fine; the story is just beginning.

I say goodbye to my weakness, so long to the regret,

…and now I see the world through diamond eyes.

~Shinedown~


"Call meh insane if ya wish, but I would never grovel to the COG over something as trivial as a sea monster…"

…the Commanding officer of the Poseidon's Spear, Anita Sokolov articulated in her obscured Tyran, erect and coherent as she glared at a bemused Colonel Hoffman from her metal chair. She sat in an interrogation room that was made up of an four, eight by ten space with bland gray walls and an elongated window that faced the security office through some tattered black metal blinds. The woman glared at the disbelieving Colonel Hoffman with a tired but fierce gaze, but her "story" has not changed from the first time they reviewed her.

On the other side of the north wall was a deliberation room with the same drab colored walls as the interrogation room, with the exception of some wall décor that looked several decades long out of style. Watching through monitor that was feeding video from the camera in the corner of the interrogation room was Sergeant Fenix, observing the exchange comfortably from his chair while sipping on his only cup of coffee that day. This was the third time they sat and deliberated with this woman after interrogating the rest of her twenty-four man crew, one at a time. Standing behind him was a ragtag of a few experienced men he was able to somewhat handpick, with Dom being first and foremost, while the others were just random veterans whom have at least been active since Operation Hollow. Among the group was Corporal Jace Stratton, Specialist Josephine Marrow, and an often irritable Private Rodney Brussels

Dom stood behind him, his arms crossed as he spent the latter twenty minutes watching the Colonel deliberate with Commander Sokolov, just waiting for the Commander to make something of a mistake in her statement, but the woman was vigilant and just as shrewd, if not more so. From behind, he could hear Josephine Marrow smacking some bubblegum he managed to dish out of a gumball machine at the security office entrance, leaning against the wall while a tired but functioning Jace Stratton was sipping on a styrofoam cup of coffee after switching shifts the night before. Of all the things that they were limited on, coffee certainly was not one of them, unless their field medic, Grimes was around, in which case, the man drunk coffee as if it was water, leaving a sad remnant at the bottom of the coffee pot.

Standing impatiently next to Stratton was Brussels, his arms folded and his expression rigid.

"Do ya really believe dat I came all da way here, to surrender my ship, my crew, to da likes of you, just to tell ya some absurd fish tail, Colonel?" Sokolov could be heard through the static coming from the speaker.

"You and your men have been out a sea for over eight years Commander. A campaign that long can do a lot of things to a sailor, especially in a submarine!" Hoffman rebutted the elusive Sokolov before she snapped right back at him,

"…and den bother to alert to you the impendin' danger? Tell me, Gear, why would I give a damn about da COG? You're people have killed meh mate an children, destroyed meh home, and left meh no place to lay meh head but on dat very ship that is sittin' in yer dock?"

On the other side of the glass, Marcus sat with head resting on his hand that was propped up on the table while his other held his cup of coffee, letting out a grumbling sigh as the Commanders' words filtered through the intercom that was feeding from the monitor speaker.

Dom on the other hand was watching the interrogation attentively, her movements, the way she directed her gaze to the Colonel, and admittedly, she was not easy to read...or was she?

"Hey Marcus, you think she's telling the truth?" Dom mumbled quietly, keeping his voice low amongst the immediate group.

"Hmmm," Marcus grunted, not the least sure as to what the Commanders' true intentions were. Although he had his suspicions at first, after the third interview, he had little room to base his doubts.

"Da chere' may be delusional…perhaps from livin' out at sea fer too long, but she's not lying," Josephine added before smacking the gum in his mouth.

"Oh c'mon Josie, why wouldn't she have anything to cover up?" Dom rebutted, "…she's two steps from being handed to Commander Trescu, and you know he's going to skewer them alive the moment we release them to his custody…"

"So why surrender, with their ship in decent condition, they're fuel reserves stable, knowing they're going to have to answer for treason…shit, the only reason I can think of is that they've run out of folks to steal from…" Brussels started to ramble.

"…but we know dat not ta be true," Josephine added, smacking his gum shortly afterwards.

"Yea, well, call me biased Marrow, but I don't think they would have stood a chance against the Gorasni sub, Zypher," Brussels added, "…there's no reason for them to come here!"

"…then again, apparently there's plenty of kelp trawlers to ransack," Jace subtly added, keeping a low profile despite the impact of his statement. Dom turned around to face Jace.

"So, you're implying that they may have been responsible for Falstaff?" Dom asked.

"Pfft, I doubt that. From what Spades said, that bitch blew up from the inside…" Brussels abruptly responded out of turn.

"Ok, maybe they didn't take out that trawler, but there was other fishing boats that were targeted," Jace restated.

"What I believe Stratton is trying to imply, is that Poseidon's Spear is in every condition to take pretty much whatever she wanted, but instead, she comes to dock here with a white flag…" Marcus glumly explained, his eyes still fixated to the monitor, taking another sip of his coffee, "…nah. Somethin' scared the shit out of them…so much they're willing to face the scrutiny of their own enemy and possibly suffer at the hands of treason than face whatever it was they found…"

"So…you do believe her?" Dom asked in curiosity, not the least bit skeptical with Marcus' reasoning, but at the same time, curious to Marcus' logic. But before Marcus could satisfy Dom with an answer, a flustered Captain Miller barged into the room while other mingling Gears moved out of the Captain's way.

"Oh yay…this day's just gotten better," Brussels sneered rhetorically before Miller was able to meander through the crowd and over to their position.

"Sergeant Fenix…you and your men are to report to the quarantine station, ASAP" Miller panted before catching a glance at the styrofoam cup in Marcus' hand, "…but before you're dismissed, will you please tell me where in the hell did you got that cup of coffee?"

"Out of Grimes' ass…" Brussels grumbled as laughter from the other men was short to follow. Miller's brow drooped before catching a glance of Marcus' demeanor of amusement at the field medic's expense; but then again, the Private may be onto something.

"I'm serious, man…just hold a cup next to his prick when he lets it drip," Brussels rhetorically suggested, "…that bastard drunk up all the shit at the officers' station…hell if I know a better place to find anymore fucking coffee."

"Officers' lounge," Marcus said, pointing to a door clear on the other side of the staff room, "…right over there."

"Thank God…oh, and you're dismissed…except for you, Rod since you have nothing better to do with your time other than be a fucking smartass! Come with me!"

"Goddamnit…" Brussels groaned. Dom and Josephine chuckled in amusement at the anal retentive Private's dilemma before he got up to go with Miller, lifting his hand to give the two the finger, which only made them laugh even harder.

"Hurry up Private, before they run out of coffee too," Miller pressed the annoyed Private.

"The fuck you need me for?" Brussels retorted.

"I'm promoting you to be my personal cup holder…now c'mon Specialist, let's go!"

"Fuck…" Brussels moaned.

Within that same moment, Miller turned right back around to retreat to the lounge in hopes to ravage whatever coffee that may be left in the ten-cup capacity pot, all the while a frumpy Brussels followed orders and trailed right behind the dashing Captain. A bemused Jace and Marcus exchanged shrugs while Dom was too busy still trying to compose himself, but Josephine continued to muse,

"I guess da Doc drank up all da coffee at da barrack's station's too."


Entering into the quarantine station felt like walking into a jam-packed saloon, filled with the clammy stench and sounds of a diversity of people that had been enclosed in a humid quarters for too long, exchanging petty quarrels, low profile conversations, or lively laughter, all nit tight into the confines of the drab gray walls that wasn't too dissimilar to the walls back at the deliberation quarters.

Marcus was the first to enter, already feeling the sweat accumulate onto his brow that was covered by his tattered bandana. It wasn't so much that the room was not air conditioned, but the amount of bodies that were festering inside the cramped quarters kept the spaces in between warm and balmy, despite the cool air pushing hard through the vents above.

Dom followed closely behind, only to hit a warm wall of air the moment he passed the doorframe.

"Damn, it's going to get hot as hell here real quick man," he mumbled. Marcus responded with a grunt, seconding Dom's observation before pausing for a moment, reassessing the crowd of people already gathered in the room.

Amongst the assembly were Gear officers, including Major Reid, Master Sergeant Jacquin, and Commander Michealson. Members of the Feral Council of Matriarchs were also present, along with their praetorians, branding the typical Feral battle fatigues and cutlery, mostly swords, sabbas, the Feral term for a "short sword,", and hunting knives. Although only two members of the Gorasni council were present, they did keep a well, intimidating company of personal body guards close by. Needless to say, the crowd of opposing forces trying to speak in the better interest of their peoples was pretty boisterous if not short of unruly.

Coming in closely after Marcus and Dom were Jace and Josephine, trying to cram themselves past the doorframe. It wasn't long before Captain Miller and his personal "cup holder," Rodney Brussels, was attempting to come in the same way. Pushing through as best he could with the Captain's scorching cup of coffee, held tightly in his gloved hand, Brussels was already openly expressing his estimation of the situation,

"C'mon, really? Are we just going to conjugate at the door and pick our asses while everybody else is getting situated?" Brussels sneered.

"With Feral in the room, Rod? Not with that attitude you're not, trust me on this one," Miller rebutted. Looking past the men, Miller got a better look of the masses assembled in the room.

"Oh fuck me…" Miller could only muster with just a brief glance of the company he was going to have to entertain. It was bad enough that the Feral were openly present for the deliberations, but having both the Gorasni and council members from the small town of Retreat was even more depreciating since neither side was a great combination to have in the same room right now, mostly because the two were currently bickering over trade caps, regulations, and the latest in accusations of harboring "terrorists."

The Gorasni councilmen were apparently exchanging heated words with both the Gear officers and a Retreat councilman, but no one as of yet, dared to go beyond those very words. It was apparent that Master Sergeant Lucius Jacquin made sure of that by keeping his presence between the opposing bodies. Although he was supposed to still be in recovery, the authoritive Sergeant, branding his armor and fatigues, was still able to set a precedence amongst the festering atmosphere in the room. His presence alone was enough to keep everyone, including the Feral, hostility in check.

The Feral on the other hand were chatting amongst themselves, not the least interested in bickering with the men, probably most likely because of the language barrier, but their presence didn't make the atmosphere any less adverse. The intimidation in their appearance alone was enough to instill concern among the others. Even Lucius kept a wary eye on the women, knowing full well that if the women were to "act," it would be quick and swift, and with all due respect to the Gorasni councilmen's body guards, these women were trained just as diligently, if not moreso, to be fast and accurate. He would know; he'd seen them on the reservation out on the court yard, practicing their "kata's" for two hours every morning.

Among the Feral was Babel, whom was the least intimidating of the group in appearance, mostly because she didn't brand any war paint on her face and her long brown hair was pulled back into a simple pony-tail, rather than the ornate hairstyle of the more war-hardened Feral, which was either cropped into a boy-like cut or shaved along the sides, leaving long strands on the crown. Next to the "Feral Consulate," Raven, Babel was better versed in the Tyran language and was therefore the better translator, while the other Feral praetorians were just there to maintain presence.

Amongst them was also Teirre,' the tallest Feral of the clan at a strong six foot four, and had the kind of build that could break balls with just a glance. She was by no means scantily clad or suggestive in her attire, but was just as flirtatiously engaging as any harlot worth a man's while. She could be seen smiling from across the room, charming to anyone whom had the balls to stare at her long enough for her to stare back. If it wasn't for her pretty, white toothed smile and her almond-shaped blue eyes, the men would probably piss themselves the moment they saw her long blonde Mohawk, pulled back into a horsetail and her exposed, bulging biceps, crossed tightly across her chest. Her thighs alone would instill fear in any man whom would ever think about nestling in between them.

Miller could already sense the diplomatic noose tighten as he exchanged a glance with Marcus, whom was also already on the edge of a similar precipice, staring down into a whatever abyss they were about to jump into. For once, the men shared the same lack of enthusiasm concerning the meeting that would be taking place.

Suddenly, a booming voice could be heard from behind as Marcus felt a nudge coming from Dom,

"Make way men," an annoyed Colonel Hoffman could be heard, trying to meander through the tight spaces towards the front of the room. Following close behind was Lieutenant Anya Stroud with a notepad and pen in hand, keeping her distance not too far from the Colonel's.

The volume in the room was still the same, despite the Colonel's entrance wasn't necessarily short in lacking authority. The masses of people did allow the Colonel to make way without further prodding.

Amongst the crowding spaces and constant exchange of voices, the overwhelmed Lieutenant was still able to exchange glances with first, the striking and generous Captain Miller, and then to the war-hardened Sergeant Fenix; both in which one could say was rather a bit too intimate than it should have been, but then again, who was say otherwise without coming across as hypocritical. These days, when humanity is hanging delicately on the threads of extinction, especially after entertaining martial law in a somewhat lawless land, who could say what is appropriate and what is not?

Although Dom had long known about Anya's infatuation with the glum Fenix, the only person to catch on to the subtle exchange was Josephine. Despite the antagonistic tone already hovering heavily in the air, being a former convict himself, Josephine could instinctively read the intuitions of almost everyone in his immediate sight, including the nearly transparent Lieutenant. He could also tell that the Colonel was short of troubled, keeping his usual ball-busting demeanor in the forefront of his aged and jaded facial expression, but Josephine had long known it was the Colonel's unique way to mask his concerns. The Captain's poise was even more translucent to whatever shit was going to hit the fan; somethin's gonna happen, and da Colonel's not too happy bout' it.


Vectus Hospital waiting room…

Baird sat in one of the many plush chairs that accommodated the massive waiting room, sophisticatedly designed to provide an atmosphere of eloquence and class. The décor alone was awe inspiring with a fountain just outside the entrance surrounded by lush crape myrtles, massive shrubs that would bloom in the hotter months of the year, filling their foliage with bright pink, white, or purple blooms of soft florets that would flutter in the air in the salty sea breeze.

Decked in cobblestone, Romanesque pillars and ornate patterns on the textured wallpaper that wrapped the walls of the room was enough to make even the most sophisticated person feel sullied, much less a grimy mechanic whom was reduced to taking showers once a week because the plumbing on base was short of inadequate for the volume of people that was dependent on it. In fact, it wasn't uncommon for Baird to make a trip to the local hardware store just to use their bathroom because the toilets on base were either out of service or in use; another reason for me not to use the shitter at the barracks. That asshole Merks keeps backing it up with his crap!

He leaned his head over the backrest of his plush chair, feeling his weight sink into what felt like air; damn, this chair's comfortable…and it was most certainly comfortable, compared to his newly, renovated office, which was nothing more than a gutted lavoratory with only the toilet and stall wall to support his equipment. As he looked up, it took only a moment to realize that he was going to have to yank himself from his state of bliss as he noticed someone approaching him from the hallway entrance into the waiting room.

Raven was staggering rather than walking, one step at a time as if she was in a daze, if not any less than just confused. Her newly refurbished attire, which consisted of a black, red poka-dot dress was freshly ironed and her black heeled shoes polished. A newly compartmented tool bag hung snugly on her shoulder by the elongated, adjustable strap, strung by the most durable nylon one could find on Sera. Judging by her overall demeanor, she didn't appear any happier, but she wasn't pissed off either.

She meandered over to Baird with a limp in her stride. Coming closer, it didn't take long for Baird to count the scratches and abrasions that now littered her left side on both her arm and leg. Although most have healed or were in the process of healing, he could still make out where she recently had some stitches removed. As bold as he would often spit out what was foremost on his mind, he wasn't going to say out loud that she looked like hell, especially since he wasn't exactly a basket of roses either.

Her face was sunken in as if she hadn't slept or eaten in a few days, which Baird could attest since the hospital food tasted like crap and the meds they shoved into you only made it to where you couldn't keep anything down if you tried. Shit, what did they put her on now?

He had expected a good scathing from her since she was nearly put in harm's way, but she made no such reprimand, nor acted as if she intended to do any scathing of the sort to anyone. Instead, she remained mute and disoriented, slowly removing the strap from her should and carefully placing the bag onto the floor. She only let out an exasperating sigh before closing her tired eyes, trying to muster something of a conversation, but she choked on the first few words before getting out whatever she intended to tell him.

"I…um, I…can we…g, go to the com center first?" she sputtered.

The ambience between the two was strangely awkward. Baird had never seen her spaced-out like this before, and if it didn't give him any cause for concern, he was certainly on the alert. Well this day's going to be interesting.

"Uh, sure, I guess…" Baird began until Raven interrupted him.

"Good. I…need some…security access to the main terminal."

"Hoffman already gave me a security access…"

"Did he…give you the, the codes to the…back-up drives?"

"Sigh…no, he didn't. I didn't think we would need to access the back-up terminal…"

"Then let's go," she said abruptly without giving Baird a chance to finish his sentence.

Although Baird wasn't one to take any crap from anyone, much less Feral, but after all they had been through in recent days, Baird just wanted to get the job done and over with, so instead, he just dropped his hands on the arm of his chair and gradually began to pull himself up. He too was still sore from their recent encounter, although his stitches were not as irritating as they were the day before. Gathering the keys to the Brahma, he stretched out an arm towards the waiting room exit.

"This way, Madame Feral." he gestured with a sarcastic pitch in his tone.


Chapter 17: Decoding The Family Skeleton Edit

The snake behind me hisses what my damage could have been. My blood before me begs me to open up my heart again.

And I feel this coming over like a storm again.

I am too connected to you to slip away, fade away. Days away I still feel you ...touching me, changing me.

~Tool~ [10]

Twelve years before E-day, at an undisclosed residence in Eypheria…

The boy stood in the hallway of his parents' home, watching the whole drama occur before him. He stood there, not moving an inch as he watched in reverence, his eyes fixated on the knife in his mothers' hand, stabbing his father over, and over, and again…

The shouting, the screaming, so deafening that even the neighbors could hear the confrontation from the comforts of their living rooms, but for him, it was the family opus. His icy cold glare coming from his blue gaze was transfixed on the confrontation, even so when somebody managed to finally bust down the front door.

Police frantically entered the house after several calls to dispatch alerting them of the domestic dispute at the home, which would normally have led to assault with a deadly weapon. Running past the boy still standing in awe in the hallway, looking into his parents' bedroom where his mother dropped a lamp over his fathers' head, and then proceeded to stab him repeatedly with a kitchen knife, the police managed to restrain her, pulling the mad woman off her screaming, bleeding husband.

It was an image that was forever burned into his head; the blood that would cling to the cold stainless steel blade that was thrusted it into his fathers' flesh, and the wild look in her eyes when she finally snapped. It was only a matter of time after so many years of abuse and rape that she would just crack. It was long before this incident that the dissidence would hover over their home like a black cloud, just waiting to crack like a booming thunder within in a brief flash of lightning. It was a long time in the waiting, only for the boy to finally witness his mother retaliate.

It didn't take long for the house to be swarmed with police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances, all trying to reassess a messy situation that was anything but typical. Although it would seem like just some archetypal domestic violence, it wasn't.

A little later, it was two o'clock later that night when Major Hoffman would get a phone call from the district judge, whom was standing over slashed up, Major Quade Haley lying in a gurney in the trauma ward of a local hospital, fighting for his life at the hands of his belligerent wife.

"Major…" the Judge was careful to articulate as he always did with delicate situations such as these, "…this is Judge Veldez from Reimer district…the reason I am calling you is because you're presence at Mercy Hospital is required at once sir."

A brief pause took resonance as the judge kept the receiver to his ear with his shoulder, still wearing his raincoat he put on earlier that evening from the drizzle earlier that day and continued through the night.

"I'm afraid this cannot wait, Major. We have a mess on our hands that only you can sign off on sir…one of your fellow officers' just got stabbed with multiple lacerations by his spouse…Protective Child Services just picked up the boy, and I'm not too sure what you want us to do with the mother. According to their transcripts, they're under COG diplomatic immunity and therefore I have no jurisdiction over their welfare."

Judge Veldez paused again, turning his gaze to the hospital entrance, only to find other patrons coming and going, shaking the water from their umbrellas.

"Thank you, Major…I'll bring you up to speed upon your arrival."


The present in the officers' dressing room on Vectus Naval Base…

Feeling the texture of the scars that ran along the side of his abdomen was a ritual Major Haley had learned to execute with a distinct precision. Carefully grazing the tips of his fingers over the ridges to where the stitches melded him together from one incident or another gave him a sense of satisfaction, proof that he was more than just a survivor; he was a despicable but ornery son of a bitch with enough gray hairs littering his once black strands displaying his years of experience to back it up. The scars were merely an emblem of all that Major Haley was, and he probably wouldn't have it any way, with one exception; the one thing he had blamed Colonel Hoffman for years

He sat on the bench, holding his white tank-top over his pectorals to gaze along his back from the mirror opposite of where he was sitting. Marks and scar lines were so patchy, it was if a child scribbled a marker all over his back, but the texture alone made it real. Where the skin was once taut and firm, age has come to renovate him into another bitter old man with enough grudges for three lifetimes, much less one.

Glancing at the clock that hung on the wall above the lockers, he lowered his shirt and leaned down to pull up his old Gear rig, which too was littered in abrasions, scraped paint, and mild deformity. Glaring at the old piece of equipment, Haley couldn't help but to chuckle to himself, reminiscing the days of his youth, and all its lore entailed. He knew exactly what he was and he made no excuses for anything or anyone. To him, it was just cold and calculating, hard logic, and again, he wouldn't have it any other way.

Staring down at his rig, he grazed the palm of his hand down the chest pate to feel the armor's old but sturdy plates as he mumbled to himself,

"Well old friend, it's into hell we go…"

…and then he strapped it on.


After almost day wandering the surface, Dr. Ramses was soon humbled to the confines of the Vectus mortuary, finding solace in its brick walls once again. The cold crisp air and the after- stench of bleach and formaldehyde had once again welcomed him home. He had long figured that it was his lot in life; his calling to be the keeper of the dead, but to feel the warmth under the Bloom sun was still a treat.

Meandering around the stainless-steel embalming table, Ramses made his way to the freezer vault to roll out the only corpse that had been sitting idle for nearly three months. Opening the steel door as the cold air rushed out, Ramses reached the handle to pull out the body of the late Sergeant Morose, or at least that's what his COG tags indicated.

Truth be told, Morose had an exemplary record of military service before the COG unleashed the Hammer of Dawn, and that he and his men, along with countless civilians and COG medical personnel, were subjected to its scorching rays. It was a day Ramses could remember vividly. So many men, women, and children, he thought to himself, remembering that he had run out of body bags within the first day. After a week, he stopped counting the number of dead.

Glaring blankly at a corpse he had thoroughly inspected three times too many, Ramses followed the post-mortem scars on the late Sergeant. He knew them intimately by now, some he had long known were from his childhood, others from the war…and the patches of first, second degree, burn marks, well…

Ramses had already written a story on the man whom had spent nearly his entire life on the edge of a scandal; one that would have had the people scream in outrage. He could read Millardo's feet and hands like an open book, judging by the calluses on the palms, the pitting in the fingernails, to the calcium build up on the knuckles and the splinters on the carpal bones, and the wearing of the nerve endings. The man was built like a machine which was normally typical of any Gear, but he was conditioned purposely to take abuse, which alluded to the doctor of the late Sergeants' sadomasochistic tendencies.

Perhaps you were right to condemn the council…but it was too late for him. Any justice Morose had hoped to deliver to those whom were responsible was either dead, or misplaced from the Locust attack. In any case, the rage that the late Sergeant had built up over the years was for nothing; save those whom lived to tell about it.

Following the stitched incisions along his neck, Ramses glared at the face of wrath. Milliardo's face was pale against the long, strands of black hair that was unevenly sheared when Ramses stitched his severed head to the rest of his body. He knew the cut was post-mortem so he didn't badger the Colonel about it.

Pulling out his recorder, he began to log his analysis once again.

"Dr. Peter Ramses, M.D, date third of Brune…I am…again, reevaluating the body of Sergeant Milliardo Leviticus Morose. As I have listed in my previous inquiries, the man of age, mid-thirties, six foot four with blue eyes, black hair…a massive tattoo of what appears to be an "incubus" of sorts on his back, died from severe hemorrhaging due to blood loss from disembowelment. His, organs were recovered at the scene in which he was found, hung upside down with his genitals dismembered, possibly while he was still living, and found stuffed in his oral cavity."

He stood mute for a moment to recollect his thoughts, going over the same analysis he had arraigned weeks earlier, only to revisit the body once again after reassessing the STR alleles he was able to access from what little blood he was able to retrieve from Milliardo's body; a reverse paternity test at the request from Hoffman earlier that week. Although the results were not terribly surprising, another similar set of alleles was also found in what was left of the Jacinto archive. It was this information that Ramses found to be of interest, and knowing that Hoffman would be just as susceptible to shock at the doctor's findings, he destroyed the remaining hard copies with the exception of one he had given to Lieutenant Stroud, in return to give to Hoffman. It was the only for sure way to avoid any more diplomatic kinks than the COG already had after recent events; this one was sure to set a fire if it fell into suspecting hands.

Ramses resumed his analysis,

"The…the left arm has pre-mortem cuts by a sharp object, most likely a knife which indicates to me self-mutilation. If I had to guess, I would say the Sergeant had ritualistically cut himself as a means of conditioning to constantly expose his body to his endorphins, which again, as stated in his psychological file, suggests a masochistic lifestyle…this would be a tell-tale sign of such tendencies as displayed in most sado-masochists in previous psychiatric studies. However, after thoroughly examining the relation between his pituitary gland and the chemical content in his bloodstream, there is an abnormality in his natural pain inhibiters, which suggests that he may have developed a, dare I say, addiction to his own abnormal secretion of his own endorphins."

Letting out a brief sigh after pausing for a moment, the doctor resumed,

"After reviewing the results of a code search in the old Jacinto archive, I…while I was confirming the alleles of that to his late, enlisted father, I made a rather interesting discovery that I cannot disclose into record as of yet. If my hypothesis is correct, then the late Sergeant Milliardo Morose has a half sibling."

Shortly after, Ramses heard the cellar door open and then close from the stairwell just outside the freezer rooms. It was the main entrance to the mortuary, a door so heavy it made a rather obnoxious sound every time someone would open it, as if the thick metal hinges were curling, for which it would pry the insulation barrier from the doorframe. It was designed for temperature control to keep the freezers cool and functioning as it housed the remnants of the dead, keeping the rest of the "catacombs" rather cooler than the rest of the hospital.

Walking down the flight of stairs, a bustled but calm Dr. Hayman meandered around the corner with patient files in hand. Placing the recorder on the dissecting tray, Ramses then wiped his hands on his apron before taking off his black-rimmed glasses to get a better look at the Chief Medical Physician entering his "domain."

"Doctor…" Ramses greeted the ornery woman with a smug that was almost if not condescending.

"That's Chief Physician to you, Sergeant," the woman articulated before placing the pile of manila folders she had carried into the morgue onto a clear stainless steel table. Shortly after placing them on what resembled a patient tray, Hayman leaned back up to stretch her back from carrying the load down the stairs. The cold only made it worse as she pulled her bleached white lab coat close to her chest to stay warm.

"So I take it those are client files that I am to soon be embalming?"

"Sigh, and then some," she replied, wiping sweat from her brow before it turned into frost. Glancing at the cadaver Ramses had pulled out from the freezer, Hayman growled,

"Is Hoffman still brooding over that son of a bitch?" she said, recalling the headaches she had to go through to keep the body on ice when they transferred it from Fort Block to Vectus Hospital. It was bad enough they struggled to transport the patients from Port Farrall to Vectus Island by ship, the most least sanitized place one could ever place a patient on, and here they were ordered to preserve and transport a corpse? Hoffman knew it would irk Hayman, but Ramses took care of it so the Chief Physician could tend to other matters other than babysit a dead person, especially a dead person that had increased the number of wounded in Hayman's ward in the first place.

Ramses shrugged, putting his recorder back into his pocket.

"I had my orders…and I kept him out of your way," he replied.

"Yes, that you did," she returned the same.

"So forgive me doctor, but I was not able to get any more Salmon for sandwiches…I've had to rely on the turkey for the past week," Ramses mentioned as he began to place his tools into the sanitation jar.

"I already ate, Peter," she replied.

"Oh…so…" Ramses began before Hayman pulled out her cheroots from her coat pocket.

"Now Doctor, I was under the understanding that it is prohibited to smoke in the mortuary…" Ramses began before Hayman interrupted him,

"In the morgue, Peter…not in your personal quarters."

It was finally clear to Ramses what the old hag came for, and he wasn't one to pass up Hayman's subtle suggestion.

Lifting herself up after leaning over the table, she put her pen on top of the files she had just placed on his table.

"Ramses could you meet me in your office please," the doctor asked, pulling the loosened, white hairs behind her ears after removing her glasses.

Shortly after her request, she walked past the plastic curtain and into the hallway that lead to Ramses' solitary office in the bowels of the mortuary. Entering into his office, Hayman caught a glimpse of the late Sergeant's collection of oddities, including several small mammals placed in specimen jars, some of which included human body parts such as the brain, heart and lungs, a human skull with the cranium severe for a better view of the sinus cavity, and a human femur, placed in a shadow box that had a bone tumor at the ball-socket joint. The man was a true artist of his profession, a rarity that Hayman had admittedly admired about the late field medic.

She began to carefully remove her lab coat and then put on the free standing coat rack nearby, making sure it hung securely to avoid it falling on the floor; she a reputation after all to keep. Ramses entered shortly wearing just his scrubs since apparently he removed his apron at the embalming room. He could see Hayman standing at the edge of his desk that in turn was surrounded by metal shelving containing files and more of his pet-projects, which in this sense was literal.

Although he had a few dogs in his lifetime, his pet of choice were cats since they were more compatible in the mortuary than any dog ever would. With each passing animal, he would preserve them to update on his taxidermy skills, which was his fathers' profession while Ramses sought such means on the human scale.

"I only have an hour left on my lunch break, doctor," Hayman informed him while she started to unstrap her shoes.

"Only an hour?" Ramses mused as he too, pulled his scrub shirt off, revealing a white undershirt underneath with his COG and medical tags hung around on a chain around his neck.

"Oh c'mon Pete, you're better than that, and it's been three weeks…" Hayman reminded him, followed with a somewhat devious smile.

Ramses lifted a brow to the senior doctor's proposition.

"With everything going on in the world, I'd figure you'd want to pop a few sleepers and take a nap," he chuckled as he removed his undershirt, revealing an icily pale slender but sculpted frame. Although he hadn't worked out on the field in over ten years that so much of his mass has since then diminished, but he still continued to go out and run almost every evening, and then finish it off with upright push-ups against the morgue walls, keeping something of a physique. But the lack of sun, the constant stench of formaldehyde, plus an overabundance of coffee was adding to his age. He constantly took vitamin supplements, including vitamin C tablets to avoid getting scurvy, and drunk green tea as much as he drunk water.

"Is that a complaint I hear, doctor?" she nagged playfully, watching Ramses fold his shirt and place it on his desk.

"No ma'am…after you," Ramses cooed, extending his arm towards his makeshift living quarters in the next small room, which was more like a prison cell, consisting of four concrete walls, a bed, and a dresser.

Hayman wasted no time, walking over to Ramses living quarters while unbuttoning her shirt to save time for the more pleasant activities the two were going to delve into. Although the woman was twelve years his senior, Ramses found Hayman's "company" intriguing and had since then followed up on their "meetings" with the same vigor as that of the Chief Medical Physician.

Hayman seldom had time for relationships, and infrequently tolerated anything that would interfere with her work, so she never married and more than often found the company of men to be tedious.

But Ramses was rare find, whom also never married and habitually always found something constructive with his time, whether it be writing memoirs or delving into other hobbies with whatever equipment he had at his disposal.

But it was Ramses who managed to convince the doctor to share a lunch with him in the mortuary when her personal desk was overflowing with paperwork and she didn't have any space to eat a lunch in peace. Although at first Hayman found the idea to be vile, eating in a space right next to the freezers where the hospital kept dead people, but it turned out to be a pleasant experience communing with the mortician and since then, she would schedule regular lunches with Ramses.

As Ramses entered his room, Hayman had already removed her blouse and started to peel the stockings from her legs.

"Are you needing the shower?" he asked while removing his pants.

"Not now…I have a surgery scheduled later and I'll wash up before then," she replied.

"Well, then I won't keep you waiting," he said with a smug before removing his underwear and placing it on the dresser. Hayman then removed the clip that held her white hair in the tight confines of her makeshift bun, and let it down before Ramses finally shut the door behind them.


Rummaging through the supply room brought back memories for Raven, recalling the countless hours she invested ransacking old COG storage houses that had somewhat been abandoned, until a Stranded came across it. It was then a battle of who gets what and depending on the Stranded, Raven was usually the victor when it came to computer components.

Baird on the other hand was stuffing his tool bag with a hand solder, several precision screwdrivers and three different types of needle-nose pliers.

"Shit, I hate getting stuff from this place," Baird was ranting, annoyed that nothing was organized.

"And why's that?" Raven had to ask for the sake of breaking up continuity.

"This place is about as organized as a box of fucking popcorn. I would spend an hour looking for a Phillips-head screwdriver…nobody puts anything back in the right place!"

"What were you expecting?" Raven said in a matter-of-fact tone while looking through the box of USB ports and wiring.

"Yea, well I guess it's too much to ask to place the screwdrivers in the cabinet by size in sequential order…and I guess everybody's just too retarded to put all the hammers in one drawer. Nah, that's just too hard of a concept for people to handle."

On and on, Damon did what he did best and Raven did what she usually does by letting it go through one ear and out the other. Although she could only tolerate Baird's excessive ranting for so long before she finally had to tell him to shut the hole in his face, and then they would have a quarrel on their hands, but today, Damon's bad habits didn't seem to peeve her at the slightest. She continued to rummage through the boxes without delay, pulling out whatever components she needed and placed them in her newly, compartmented tool bag. It was to the point that Raven appeared to be so serene, even Baird had to stop and wonder why she wasn't chewing his balls off.

The atmosphere was starting to bother him before he finally had to ask her,

"Ok, I'm going to have to ask since, technically, I'm your ward…what meds did they put you on?" he asked.

It took a few moments for the question to sink in like a delayed reaction before Raven stopped rummaging in the box to look up at him and respond.

"Uh…" she stopped to think, rerouting her focus on remembering what the doctor said he was going to put her on, "…Refilin, I think."

"Refilin?" Baird paused working for a moment, "…that's an anxiety medication, isn't it?"

"Uh, yea," she replied and then resumed working without further comment. No snooty remark or sarcastic banter, just silence.

Baird couldn't help but to notice the contortions of her sculpted biceps, working diligently as she placed one box up so she could pull out another. It was more than obvious by now that she hadn't been eating much lately, judging by the lack of fat on her body. The medicine may have also added to her lack of appetite, another cause for further concern, not to mention a radical change in her mood and personality. Damn, she was more fun when she was a nagging bitch, Baird had to admit.

After finally pulling out the last thing she needed, she slid the box back onto the shelf and loaded up her tool bag on a chair sitting next to hers.

"I got what I need, what about you?" she quickly asked.

"Uh yea," Baird replied as he stood up with the strap to his bag already hung over his shoulder.

"Well, let's get this over with I guess," she replied softly, a contrast from her normal demeanor, which usually would involve a scathing scowl.

Without warning, the door to the supply room suddenly creaked open before an awake and ready Augustus Cole peeked past the door frame.

"Hehe, Hoffman sent me here to look for y'all," Cole beamed, happy to see the two alive and somewhat well, especially Raven.

"Morning Cole…" Raven replied, and then loaded the strap of her bag onto her shoulder.

"Morning baby…I take it Baird gave you the lowdown? Cole gleefully asked.

"Sigh, yea," Raven replied before walking past Cole and exiting the door. Puzzled by Raven's lenient poise, Cole turned to Baird,

"Ok, how long has she been like that?" Cole subtly asked a bemused Baird.

Letting out a sigh, Baird replied,

"Since they sedated her because she was cussing like a sailor in the trauma ward…and now they got her on some anti-anxiety meds so now we have to work with doped up Feral."

"Well, I guess this day's gonna prove interesting," Cole chuckled before Baird walked over to the door and slapped Cole on the shoulder as he responded,

"Tell me about it. Let's just get this thing started before they wear off, shall we?"

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